Atheist Excluded from City Meeting for Not Participating in Prayer

House Chambers

An atheist from Florida has alleged that he was kicked out from a city meeting after he refused to participate in the invocation prayer and stand up for the Pledge of Allegiance. Reportedly, it was Mayor John Rees who asked 51-year-old atheist Joseph Richardson to be escorted out if he did not leave by himself. After the incident, Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the local Winter Garden City Commissioners asking them to apologize to Richardson for having forced him out of the meeting.

As reported by Richardson, he refused to stand up during the invocation first and then again for the Pledge of Allegiance. He was eventually made to leave the meeting by local Police Chief George Brennan.

“[I'm] asking you to either stand or please be escorted out [as we do] the Pledge. It's just not fair to our troops and people overseas, sir,” Rees reportedly told Richardson.

The Police Chief then asked the atheist if he wanted to stand or leave and when Richardson refused to stand, he was escorted out of the meeting.

Apparently, Richardson, who is a renowned member of Central Florida Freethought Community, has made repeated requests to the city to allow him to give an invocation but the city has not granted him the permission to do so because he is an atheist.

“As a resident of Winter Garden, I would like our city to be known for its inclusiveness for all points of view and its respect for all individuals. Opening up the commission meeting invocations to everyone would be a wonderful step in that direction,” Richardson reportedly wrote this past May.

In the letter sent by FFRF, the local city government has been asked to clarify that Americans have the right not to participate in invocation prayers and also sit during the Pledge of Allegiance.

“To remedy the Pledge violation, at the next meeting, Mayor Rees ought to explain that citizens are within their rights to remain sitting for the Pledge and that it does not reflect a lack of patriotism. ... [Police] Chief [George] Brennan should make a similar statement. Patriotism and religiosity are not one and the same,” the demand letter reads.

In the meantime, members of CFFC have pledged to turn up at the next meeting, which is scheduled to take place in two weeks, to express solidarity with Richardson. The American Civil Liberties Union too has criticized Rees for his behavior.

“The problem with telling people they have to participate in any mandatory expression is that it tells people who might have a religious objection or other deeply held belief that, if they don’t go along with what the government tells them to do, they aren’t welcome in this community,” said ACLU spokesperson Baylor Johnson.

Photo Credits: Wikimedia

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