Tensions that stemmed from La Vista Mayor Doug Kindig’s alleged comments to an atheist activist after a Memorial Day service led to a political storm and protests on June 2nd. A group of atheists in La Vista, Nebraska has accused the mayor of offering a “disturbing” response to their complaint over an event organized part of the city’s Memorial Day celebrations that they believed violated the separation of church and state.
At the “Faith & Freedom Day” event on May 25th, Robert Fuller, treasurer for Omaha Atheists, approached Douglas Kindig to say that the Memorial weekend event violated the separation of church and state.
According to a press release by Omaha Atheists, Fuller approached the mayor, calmly telling Kindig how he disagreed with certain aspects of the event. After expressing his thoughts, Fuller handed over his business card to Kindig, requesting an appointment so they could meet and discuss the issue further. But, according to the organization, the mayor responded with “disturbing comments.”
“Take me to f****** court, because I don’t care… Minorities are not going to run my city,” said the mayor.
In his press release, Fuller said that he was “baffled” by Kindig’s “disturbing” response and did not have hope that the politician would hear his concerns.
In response, the mayor’s office said Kindig had been “confronted” by Fuller though they did not divulge any details about the incident.
“I am truly sorry that my response to this representative caused backlash against the city… I was coming out of a very emotional event at which local veterans who were killed in action were recognized, and my reaction was certainly emotional in nature… It is my hope all sides can move forward together,” said Kindig in his statement.
This did not satisfy many Nebraska atheists, who congregated at La Vista City Hall to protest the mayor’s conduct on June 2nd.
“We have a political figure, such as the mayor of the city, picking such marginalizing comments. We want to make sure that he knows it's wrong,” said Jill Fitzgerald, an atheist demonstrator.
In fact, members of the Harrison Street Baptist Church also joined the protest, though it was in support of the mayor and not against him.
“We concluded that it was a constitutional event. It is really a private worship service, not a government-sponsored one… I don't see the mayor as a bigot. I don't think he was making any kind of racial comments or anything like that,” said Roger Criser, chief organizer of the La Vista Daze memorial service.
Faith and Freedom Day was organized on Sunday to thank and celebrate veterans as well as those currently serving in the military. The event included a pancake breakfast as well as a prayer service. According to the city’s website, the event received its sponsorships from local churches.
Neither group instigated the other and both sides kept to themselves. While the Christian protesters continued to pray at the gathering, the atheist protesters delivered powerful speeches. The La Vista police said that this was the first-ever protest to be held at the City Hall. During the protest, Fuller said that he was still seeking an appointment with Kindig to discuss the separation of church and state in the organization of the Memorial Day service in question.
While I am certainly disturbed by the mayors alleged sentiments, I must in rare form disagree with the atheist activist in question about any alleged violation of separation of church and state here. While the city may have organized the event, they state that it was funded by local church groups who are not part of the government body. Additionally the event was held at a public park which is open to all the public and no one was denied entry as far as we know.
I think we need to pick our battles a bit better than this, because things of this nature give off the appearance of being petty and intentionally confrontational when no confrontation is necessary.
But that's just my two cents.