Damn you, Flower Mound. In December, your mayor, Tom Hayden, stops a Town Council meeting and proclaims 2014 the "Year of the Bible," thus setting the stage for a battle that can only logically end in Jesus and Richard Dawkins brawling in a no-holds-barred MMA throwdown -- an event we were very much looking forward to covering -- and this is how you react? With a nuanced and respectful discussion of religion in public life?
Especially when Daniel Moran, a nonbelieving UNT student and Texas House candidate, began organizing a protest of Thursday night's Town Council meeting, it seemed that fireworks were inevitable.
Moran accused Hayden of violating the constitutional ban on the establishment of religion, sure, but he did so politely and spent most of his energy lamenting that the mayoral proclamation had made non-Christians feel unwelcome in Flower Mound. Other opponents -- mostly nonbelievers, one self-identified Muslim -- generally shared the critique that the proclamation was divisive.
A couple of speakers praised Hayden for his courage. One repeated the line that America was established as a Christian nation; another described Hayden's outreach as mayor to Flower Mound's Hindu and Muslim communities and said that naysayers were sacrificing a chance for honest dialogue at the altar of political correctness.
Through the 45-minute public hearing, Hayden never lost his avuncular demeanor. He would welcome each speaker to the microphone and thank them when they were finished. After Tony, from Richardson, rattled off Bible verses that more or less endorse child labor, rape and genocide, Hayden offered a hearty, and seemingly genuine, "Thank you sir! Glad to have you here tonight!"
His effusive optimism was contagious. One woman, who initially declined to step up to the microphone, cheerfully invited Hayden to attend "a walk to celebrate diversity." Another proclaimed it the "'Year of Diversity' for the whole metroplex." A man who described himself as a "devout nonbeliever" expressed the sincere hope that "we can all start actually talking to each other instead of taking potshots at each other."
It was all a bit dismaying. Instead of sparks of rage, Hayden's "Year of the Bible" seemed to have sparked a healthy and productive conversation.
Yet not all hope is lost. One of the final speakers was a woman running a book-sale fundraiser for the library who told the council that an anonymous donor had given a video disc player complete with 94 classic movies (Casablanca, Mary Poppins, The Graduate, etc.).
"That will whet somebody's whistle!" she squealed. "We hope to have a bidding war take place."
We trust that Jesus and Richard Dawkins will be present.
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