WAVERLY — The organizer of an atheist rights group clashed with Waverly’s mayor Monday after the mayor defended his regular City Council prayer by saying atheists could “say their own quiet prayer.”
Justin Scott of the Eastern Iowa Atheists confronted Mayor Charles Infelt during the public comment portion at the start of Monday’s regular Waverly City Council meeting, saying he had contacted Infelt twice by email and asked if he would allow an atheist to give an invocation.
Infelt, who described himself as a Christian, regularly delivers a prayer at the start of the meeting and did so Monday night.
“I am here to speak for atheists in your community,” Scott said. “Our group has asked to speak and deliver an invocation at some point. I would request equal treatment for atheists in our community.”
Infelt said his prayer was “theistic” and those who didn’t subscribe to his views could “say their own quiet prayer.”
“The reason we have prayers is because we have the freedom and ability to invoke a higher power in our approach to city business, and I do it in ways that shouldn’t be offensive,” Infelt said.
“So at this point, there is no representation outside of your view?” Scott asked.
Infelt didn’t directly respond, but noted Scott should “just be tolerant of it as is.”
Ward 3 councilman Wes Gade noted Infelt didn’t always do his own prayer.
“Back when we first started, there was a different person every month — we did used to rotate pastors,” he said.
“I would encourage that, and if the mayor wants that, I can bring somebody in,” Scott said of bringing someone from his group to deliver an invocation.
Scott posted to his group’s Facebook page Tuesday morning about the exchange.
“While we appreciate the ability to share our concerns with the Mayor of Waverly, we really don’t think he completely understood what we were trying to convey,” Scott said.
In another post, Scott said a lawsuit could be forthcoming if the City Council doesn’t act.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2014 ruled sectarian prayers before government meetings were constitutional, provided they aren’t “coercive,” don’t denigrate other religions and do not require participation by people who do not share the same beliefs.
Scott challenged Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart on the same matter last year and succeeded in delivering a “secular prayer” during a Waterloo City Council meeting last May.