Metroplex Atheists, with the legal aid of Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) delivered a letter last week to the Rowlett City Council requesting that they be added to the list of invocation leaders. It's not the first time the group has sought recognition with the City Council, but this latest move may be the closest they get to victory.
In 2010, Metroplex Atheists first requested that the invocation be eliminated altogether. After Metroplex Atheists were denied, the City Council re-evaluated the invocation policy, and began reaching out to local religious institutions to expand the diversity of the invocation list. City policy currently dictates that invocation be led by a religious leader, and that their institution be located in Rowlett.
Rowlett Mayor Todd Gottel is defending the policy, saying the city offers invocation slots to every religious institution in Rowlett. Because there are no synagogues, mosques, temples or other non-Christian religious place of worship in the city, that means a Christian generally delivers the invocation.
After the failed first request for invocation elimination, Metroplex Atheists next requested a moment of silence instead of an invocation. But again, Rowlett tradition prevailed. "Now they say we're discriminating against religions that don't have a location in the city," Gottel told Unfair Park. "Then they said they wanted to pray to the spaghetti god or Neptune or something. So we said look, we're not going to make a mockery of the system. We're asking for blessings on the city."
Randy Word, president of Metroplex Atheists, says that any invocation by Metroplex Atheist members would be respectful. "A secular invocation would be a serious invocation intended to solemnize the occasion," Word told Unfair Park. "We would invoke a human nature, logic, reason and a sense of justice."
This May, the Supreme Court ruled in Town of Greece v. Galloway that government meeting invocations were constitutional as long as they do not discriminate against any religion or body. In other words, any minister or layperson may deliver an invocation if they so desire. Metroplex Atheists are now refocusing their strategy, saying that this ruling would allow atheists the right to deliver secular invocations, including one at the Rowlett City Council meetings.
City Council members have so far declined to respond to the letter, and Mayor Gottel and the City Council are maintaining their position. "If I felt like there would be something reasonable, I would be willing to discuss this," said Gottel. "But when you entertain the idea of a 'spaghetti god', it's hard to take them seriously."
For his part, when asked about allegations that their invocation would bring in a so-called "spaghetti god," Word said neither he nor Metroplex Atheists had mentioned a spaghetti deity at City Council meetings. "I don't know where he's [Gottel] coming from with that," he said, "except that he's obviously trying to maintain the Christian bullying approach that they have now."