WAVERLY — The organizer of an atheist group said he will keep coming to city council meetings until the mayor and council decide what, if anything, to do about their regular mayor-led prayer.
Eastern Iowa Atheists organizer Justin Scott of Waterloo spoke again at Monday’s Waverly City Council meeting during the public comments portion of the meeting.
Scott initially said he was pleased with the “friendly discussion” he said took place at the previous week’s council study session, where council members talked about Scott’s request for a nontheistic prayer to take place on occasion, or as part of a rotating invocation of speakers from different faith groups in the community.
But he said he was disappointed there was no vote scheduled on the matter, and expressed frustration at Mayor Charles Infelt, a former pastor with Holy Family Ministries, who gave Monday night’s prayer addressed to the “dear author of life.”
“That reeks of Christian arrogance, Christian privilege,” Scott said. “Let’s not keep doing things the way we’re doing them.”
Neither the mayor nor the council responded directly after Scott’s comments, after which Scott left the meeting.
Later, Ward 5 council member Tim Kangas reignited the discussion in the end-of-meeting council comments, trying for humor when discussing Scott’s remarks.
“When an atheist invokes ‘hell,’ what are they talking about?” he said. The joke was followed by laughter from a few council members.
The council then discussed whether the mayor or the council had the power to keep or change the regular prayer.
“I guess, what is the next step?” asked at-large council member David Reznicek. “I just want to make sure we’re inclusive.”
“If we continue these, it would seem appropriate to me to make some allowance from time to time for those who are not theistic,” said Ward 4 council member Mike Sherer. “I have said I would be happy to not do a prayer.”
Ward 2 council member Dan McKenzie said he had heard from other media outlets asking whether the council would vote on the matter.
“I would look to the mayor to use your best judgment, whether to continue course,” McKenzie said.
At-large council member Edith Waldstein asked, “Does the council decide — or the mayor?”
Infelt made no public comments on the matter but said in last week’s study session he believed his prayers are “totally constitutional.” Council members Wes Gade and Dan Lampe were absent.
After the meeting, Reznicek said the discussion and Kangas’ joke were “troubling,” even though Reznicek said his religious views were different than Scott’s.
“To sit and watch others on council mock someone with different views, (who) came to try to get council to be more inclusive, was very telling,” Reznicek said.
Scott on Tuesday said Infelt was “digging his heels in” on the issue of opening up invocations, and said he would continue coming to council meetings until a decision was made.
“I’m fully aware it could be a resolution that isn’t what I’m asking for, but at least it stops being this ambiguous thing — Here’s where we stand, let’s move on,” Scott said.
Scott has put pressure on other city councils to add a nontheistic invocation to the start of their meetings if they usually open with a prayer, and has successfully done so in Waterloo as well as Bettendorf.