'Atheist invocation' at Berea council meeting sparks debate

Published: Mar. 19, 2019 at 10:39 PM EDT
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Tuesday's city council meeting in Berea started like many do - with an invocation. But the invocation was likely different than many you've heard. It was not a prayer.

"I invite you to raise your head, keep your eyes open, and look around at your neighbors gathered in this room during my comments, and please do sit if you'd feel more comfortable," Ali Blair said at the opening of her invocation. Blair delivered what she called an 'atheist invocation,' quoting from an essay and then urging council members, the mayor and others "to look within yourselves and invoke your own capacity for compassion, civility and reason and let these things guide you as you make decisions tonight."

Blair said it is the first time an atheist invocation has been delivered there - and at an appropriate time, too, with Atheist Day coming up on Saturday.

This is not the first time the issue has come up, and even after council moved on to the next item on the agenda, the invocation was still on the minds of many. The council chamber was packed with folks, many of whom spoke during the public comment period and covering a wide spectrum of perspectives about the invocation, invocations in general and the nature of faith.

One woman called the invocation "inspiring." Another quoted scripture: "'The fool hath said in his heart there is no God.'"

Some others:

"I may be nobody to many of you," one woman said, "but I care about Berea and I ask that you revisit this policy of including prayer in government functions."

"I just think it's wrong for people to think bad about God," one nine-year-old girl said.

"It will be my honor and duty as a patriot and devout Satanist to invoke Luciferian influences over my hometown," one man said.

"We need prayer at all times," one woman said. "If we need it anytime, we need it today."

Public comment lasted for about an hour before city council moved on to other business - with some urging from a couple of other speakers.

"This is not a tent meeting. This is not a public forum meeting for anyone's religious beliefs," one woman said. "I would like us please, finally, get to the business I came to hear tonight."