(Published June 4, 2013)
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.”
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.