The Wichita City Council in Kansas will continue having invocations before each meeting despite protests by a group of humanists.
“I can’t agree with the statement that religion has no place. It has a place in our entire lives. It’s not just here at city hall,” said Councilwoman Sue Schlapp on Tuesday. “So I don’t think I can exclude that from my daily life just because I walk into city hall.”
Vickie Sandell Stangl, president of the Great Plains chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, brought her concerns before council members at their meeting Tuesday.
She argued, “There’s no good reason to use public time to express private beliefs. The only real purpose seems to be an elevating of public officials’ piety before the citizenry.”
“Invocations before government meetings only serve to promote religion,” she added, noting that the majority of the invocations have been Christian. “Public business should be free of religious sentiment.”
Three of the council members disagreed with Stangl’s arguments.
Councilman Paul Gray said nearly every culture and corner of life has established some form of religion. And though many quote 17th century British philosopher John Locke when arguing for the separation of church and state, Gray stressed that no such words are found in the one document that has any relevance – the U.S. Constitution.
“M’am, this is not an open debate,” Gray said.
He and others on the council noted, however, that they make sure everyone has the opportunity to express their opinion, celebrate their religion and give the invocation at their meetings.
“But it doesn’t require us to have an absence of religion because a few people out there, a very slim majority, feel offended,” Gray added. “I think the majority of the country does not have a problem as long as everybody gets a fair representation.”
On Tuesday, Michael Alderfer of the Great Plains AU, filled the invocation slot with a short speech.
“Each of us possess the ability to use reason and compassion,” he stated, after encouraging participants to look at one another rather than bow their heads. “Let us not only look to the heavens for inspiration but also to each other and open our eyes wide to accept the reality that confronts us without losing sight of our ideals of what could be. Through the prudent use of reason and compassion we can assure the continued success of this great city.”
Following Alderfer’s speech, Schlapp decided to bless the meeting.
“I believe all good flows from our Heavenly Father and I’d like to bless this meeting this morning,” she said.
If the city council plans to continue with invocations before every meeting, Stangl suggested that they be more diverse to include such persons as Wiccans and humanists.
Mayor Carl Brewer said the invocations already reflect the diversity of the community.
“City hall is everyone’s city hall,” he assured.