Refusing to approve proclamation for Humanist week, Mayor vows to support only Christian groups 22

council resolution-B

MARK SCHUMANN

(Published June 4, 2013)

Councilwoman Tracy Carroll looks to the ceiling as Phillip Katrovitz challenged her definition of Humanism as "atheism."

Councilwoman Tracy Carroll looked to the ceiling as Phillip Katrovitz challenged her definition of Humanism as “atheism.”

In a troubling display of intolerance,  City of Vero Beach Mayor Craig Fletcher and Vice-Mayor Tracy Carroll refused today to support a proclamation establishing June 16-23 as Humanist Recognition Week.

When asked by Councilman Jay Kramer why he sought to remove the proclamation from the Council’s consent agenda, Fletcher said, “I refuse to support any organization that does not believe in Jesus Christ.  I’ll have nothing to do with it.  If you want to out vote me, go ahead.  Make a motion and get on with it.”

Punctuating his argument, Fletcher added, “It’s a proclamation for Humanists.  They do not recognize Jesus Christ as their savior.”

By a vote 3 to 2, the proclamation survived Fletchers’s and Carroll’s attempt at religious discrimination.  Along with Kramer, Council members Pilar Turner and Richard Winger saved the day for open-mindedness and civility; either that, or they had the good sense not to expose the City to a religious discrimination lawsuit, which is what could happen if the Council follows Fletcher’s lead in restricting proclamations of support exclusively to groups confessing “Jesus Christ as their savior.”

"I'm telling you know you can sit down or I'm going to have you sat down," Mayor Fletcher told Katrovitz.

“I’m telling you now you can sit down or I’m going to have you sat down,” Mayor Fletcher told Katrovitz.

Once outvoted, Fletcher handed the proclamation to Kramer, saying, “You read it.”

When it came time to present the proclamation,  Carroll could not remain silent.  Apparently compelled to further explain her positon, or to land a few more verbal jabs, or both, the Councilwoman managed to admit her ignorance of the definition of Humanism.   “I didn’t know what the word ‘Humanist’ was, so I looked it up on the internet,” Carroll said.  She claimed to have mostly found references to atheism, thus revealing less than commendable research skills.

In an apparent effort to remind Carroll and Fletcher that ours is a democracy and not a theocracy,  Winger said, “Mr. Mayor, I draw your attention to the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, ‘Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’ This is a nation for people of all faiths.”

Phillip Katrovitz, who came before the Council to receive the proclamation, attempted to explain that Humanism as a movement is as diverse as Christianity.  Fletcher shut him down, with Carroll still throwing punches from over his shoulder, including one final jab describing the proclamation as one for an “atheist recognition week.”

“This is not a pulpit, this is a City Council meeting,” Carroll said, after she had turned the dias into her pulpit.

“This is not a dais to tout your stance,” Fletcher added.  “I’m telling you know you can sit down or I’m going to have you sat down.” he told Katrovitz.

In a final act of incivility, Fletcher and Carroll remained seated and did not shake hands with Katrovitz as he came forward to receive the proclamation.

Beyond issues of governments giving preference to certain religious groups in making proclamations of recognition and support, questions are increasingly being raised about the need for religious inclusiveness in government meetings.

Below, reprinted in full, is a story that appeared May 31 in the Hanford Sentinel.

Hanford council to open meeting with Hindu prayer

May 31, 2013, BY MIKE EIMAN

HANFORD — Amid a national debate over religious inclusiveness at government meetings, the Hanford City Council will open a meeting later this year with a Hindu prayer.

Last week, the U.S Supreme Court agreed to consider a lower court ruling that the city of Greece, N.Y. violated the Constitution by only featuring Christian prayers to open meetings.

Rajan Zed, president of the Reno-based Universal Society of Hinduism, is scheduled to perform the opening prayer for the Hanford City Council’s Aug. 6 meeting.

The prayer will mark Zed’s second visit to Kings County this year. He delivered a prayer at the Lemoore City Council’s Jan. 15 meeting.

Hanford Vice Mayor Gary Pannett said he is supportive of Zed’s appearance.

“Our community is very diverse,” Pannett said. “I welcome all religions and all of the community.”

The City Council began holding invocation at the start of its meetings earlier this year at Pannett’s request.

Although past councils had opened meetings with prayer, the practice had fallen out of favor. After the motto “In God We Trust” was posted in the council chambers based on a July 2012 vote, Pannett said he felt it made sense to resume the practice.

Lemoore voted to post “In God We Trust” in its council chambers in 2008. The Kings County Board of Supervisors also adopted the motto last year.

Pannett said he believes the motto is inclusive of all faiths, not just Christianity.

“God is personal,” Pannett said of the motto. “It opens up the door at our meetings for involvement by the whole community. It doesn’t exclude any one faith.”

Mayor Lou Martinez said he was also supportive of Zed’s scheduled appearance.

“As far as prayer goes, I think it’s important that we be inclusive regardless of the religion,” Martinez said.

In a statement, Zed said he will deliver the invocation in Sanskrit, followed by an English translation, using ancient Hindu texts including the Rig-Veda, Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. The Hindu statesman has delivered prayers before a wide array of government bodies, including city councils, county boards of supervisors and even the U.S Senate.

Zed told The Sentinel that most communities are very supportive. Some groups may not be able to schedule him right away, but none of them have refused him outright. Most of them have never had a Hindu invocation.

Last June, Zed performed the opening prayer for the Parlier City Council. When he finished, the council made a surprising request.

“They asked me, ‘Since you are here, why don’t you explain what Hinduism is?’” Zed said. “No one has ever done that before.”

He said some citizens protested after media reported his appearance before the Stockton City Council on July 10, not because he was Hindu, but because they didn’t know the council held prayers before their meetings.

“Not all cities have prayers,” Zed said.

The reporter can be reached at 583-2458 or by email at meiman@HanfordSentinel.com.

22 comments

  1. My stomach turned while watching Ms. Carroll and her hypocrite in crime, Mayor Fletcher at today’s city council meeting. I feel like I am in a twilight zone in Vero Beach, FL when this kind of intolerance is spoken so freely by elected officials.

    When Fletcher said he would have nothing to do with this proclamation because Humanists do not recognize Jesus Christ as their savior, I thought, Oh my, doesn’t he know that not all of us believe in Jesus Christ as our savior. In fact, from what I know about Jesus Christ, he would not have been very proud of Fletcher or Carroll because of their total lack of tolerance that was displayed from the dais.

    I guess Vero Beach is doomed to tolerate an Archie Bunker Mayor and an ignorant councilwomen. Again, I hope I never have to witness this kind of behavior from elected officials again because I fear what they might do or think of those of us out here who do not embrace Jesus Christ as their savior.

    You know, I almost wished Ms. Turner had stuck with the Troika on this matter so I could join in on a religious discrimination lawsuit. It would have been my pleasure.

  2. Finally, a man in politics that has vowed to follow his core beliefs. Whether considered right or wrong, he has put himself out there as a man with conviction. He doesn’t have to agree with humanist or atheistic views. Why should he be condemned for speaking his beliefs, when he is being asked to support a movement against them? In 100 years none of this will matter. Politics circa 2013, Obama, all the other nonsense. However in 100 years, eternity will still be in full swing and how have you aligned yourself? Who will you ask for on your final day? God or a humanist representative? Such arguments shouldn’t be questioned while we live in any year A.D. / in the year of our lord.

    • Ian, again, we live in a democracy, not a theocracy; and our democratically elected representatives are expected to respect and abide by the Constitution, regardless of their own personal religious beliefs. Iran, in contract, is a theocracy. Who wants that form of government?

    • As someone of the Jewish faith, I find Mr. Fletcher’s and Mrs. Carroll’s comments and actions way off base. As elected public officials, it is wrong to speak or vote against an action only because the group doesn’t support your religion. I have no problem with someone speaking his personal beliefs – but don’t use your elected office to impose your religious beliefs on others. It’s called separation of church and state.

  3. Very interesting. We are at a point in our society where right and wrong do not matter. We accept no absolute truth and ‘everyone does what is right in his own eyes.’ The worst thing in the eyes of so many in society is to have a conviction and voice it.Everything is about ‘tolerance’ except Christian beliefs. For the record, Humanism is not totally atheistic because they have the basic belief that man is god and that he has all the answers.

  4. As the wife of the man who was vilified by our Vero Beach Mayor and Mrs. Carroll for his “Humanism”, I want to point out that my husband, due to circumstances beyond his control, was born into the Jewish culture. His life still reflects those beliefs. As a Christian exposed to maternal grandparents who lived the life of believers – more than merely speaking it, I cannot sit by and not express my disbelief at what two members of our elected City Council stated. I thank Mrs Turner for her “tolerance”, and I’m sending a super-size thank you to Mr. Kramer and Mr. Winger for showing THEY are truly striving to represent everyone in Vero Beach. Our backgrounds vary but our goals may be the same – to live, work, and achieve our life’s dreams in an atmosphere of hope and harmony. And may we always be there to lend a helping hand to our fellow man, regardless of our religiosity or lack thereof.

  5. Randy and Ian, what Mark Schumann says is right. Mayor Fletcher voiced his opinion, but he did so in a close-minded, angry way. He was mad that the Humanists were trying to get the same respect as those of the Christian faith. Obviously, he and Tracy Carroll were going to have none of that. I do not want to live in a theocracy, but rather in a place where all views and beliefs are respected. Thanks, Bea, for your comments, too.

  6. Sometimes I wonder if perhaps our elected officials are not living in the 21st century as are the rest of us. It is clear that too many use their elected positions to advance their own personal agenda. It is important that they learn some American history and recognize that the U. S. Constitution provides us protection FROM religion.

    It is also clear that it is time that the voters elect someone of the Jewish faith, an agnoist or an atheist.

    • Pat, the Constitution does not guarantee freedom FROM religion. Rather, it guarantees the free exercise OF religion, and freedom FROM a state sponsored religion. Based on their comments yesterday, Carroll and Fletcher would seem inclined to establish Christianity, or their personal expression of Christianity, as the official religion of the land.

  7. Joe Beck: My gratitude is extended to City Council members Jay Kramer, Pilar Turner and Dick Winger for courageously voting for religious inclusiveness yesterday. They understand that our Constitution requires elected officials to respect divergent religious beliefs. I am also hopeful that Mayor Fletcher and Vice Mayor Carroll will remember that Humanist, atheist, agnostic and religious soldiers have and are currently serving in all branches of the military and deserve to have their religious perspectives protected at home while they are putting their lives on the line far from the comforts of home and family.

  8. I am appalled that the mayor of Vero Beach voted against the City’s recognition of any groups other than Christian groups. No recognition for Jewish groups, Hindu groups, Buddhist groups, Humanist groups or for anyone else that refuses to accept the Mayor’s God? Welcome to state-mandated religion. There are intolerant zealots in every religion, unfortunately, and they have every right to believe what they want in private, but the Mayor has crossed the line. Based upon the transcript it appears that the Mayor told the Humanist to sit down or he would have someone sit him down. What’s next from Mr. Mayor? Will he direct the removal of the Torah or the Koran from city libraries? Didn’t his oath of office include swearing to uphold the Constitution of the United States? Doesn’t the City collect taxes from Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and Humanists to pay the Mayor’s salary? Must we provide documentation of belief in Christianity prior to making arguments before City Council? The Mayor is welcome to go and preach to his heart’s content from a pulpit, but not from the Mayor’s chair.

  9. Erasmus would not doubt have found this view of humanism pretty bizarre. Glad to see your name on the byline, Mark Schumann. — Matt Brown, VBHS, class of 1976.

  10. They have the right to decide whether or not to declare one day of the year Humanist’s Day. But the reason given is absurd. Not only is it absurd but it is narrow minded, ignorant and off base both spiritually and politically.
    I am shocked at how quickly such fundamentalist venom spewed forth. Horrifying!

  11. Tim Left this is just the start as time goes on we will fine out they are not for the people on the west side of bridges it time to check things out and go deep and you will know why the City is going down CITY FOR SALE ””””’

  12. Life in a small minded, hick town. To have such a beautiful place smeared by such bigotry is at least embarrassing, at most, a step back in time.

  13. LARRY WAPNICK says:
    It is a pity that “bigotry” is alive and well as demonstrated by both the Mayor and Vero Beach City Council Member Tracy Carrol . Last year the “Four Chaplains Monument” was dedicated and unveiled in the City of Sebastian. It honors Four Eternal Chaplains, a Rabbi, a Priest and two Protestant Ministers who died together as brothers and believing in the same GOD. They gave their own life vests to four soldiers on that fateful morning of February 3, 1943 as the USAT Dorchester began to sink beneath the icy cold waves of the North Atlantic. Perhaps it is a good time for these elected officials to visit the monument located minutes away in Sebastian’s Riverview Park. Here they can learn about the true meaning of “Interfaith in action” and how Americans standing together, Americans of different races and religious beliefs defeated an enemy that would have terminated our freedoms and the “American Way Of Life”.
    My applause to the other three members of the council who responded properly and approved the deserved proclamation. Is this a signal for us? It is prudent that candidates should be vetted more efficiently before being allowed to run for public office! It is now a fact that both of these officials are not qualified to be in a public office, they could never function properly with their present views and their lack of fully understanding the meanings of separation of Church and State! Vero is a beautiful City; let us not shame it by ignoring our Nation’s Constitutional Rights!

  14. It was a shameful display of bigotry and intolerance.It puts the public on notice that they can only get a fair shake from Mayor Craifg Fletcher and Councilwoman Tracy Carroll if you are a christian. I expected Mr. Fletchers bigitry, but likewise expected more from Ms. Carroll, who has often demonstrated her compassion for others in the community.

    While I am not a person of faith, i have supported and worked with christian organizations in our community for its betterment .. People of all faiths would do well to appeal to these Council members to find it in their christian beliefs to love and respect all of us.

    Let us hope for a measure repentance and tolerance.

  15. Pingback: The Latest Craze?!?! | "Moore Thoughts"

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