GRANDVILLE, Mich. — A professing atheist in Michigan delivered a secular invocation during his city’s public meeting this week.
Steven Belstra presented what read more like a speech or exhortation to the Grandville City Council on Monday.
“I request from the council and our community that we don’t turn towards faith or religion to guide government decisions but rather good will towards all people in our community,” he said.
“I speak for the minorities in the area who identify as being secular humanists, atheists, and one of the fastest growing groups in America, the non-religious,” Belstra stated. “Grandville contains many different people who have different beliefs, traditions, and cultures all of which we want to see considered when making decisions for our community.”
He also spoke of his support for same-sex nuptials.
“2015 will be remembered as a year that major human rights decisions were made in the Obergefell vs Hodges case which granted state recognition to all same sex couples,” Belstra said. “It is in our best interest as a community to view all of our citizens as equals, regardless of their beliefs of an afterlife or their beliefs about human sexuality.”
“So what I ask of my local city council is that you govern with reason and empathy towards all people, regardless of the church I do or don’t attend, the person that I marry, or the beliefs that you may or may not share with other citizens of the community,” he stated.
Belstra told MLive that he approached Mayor Steve Maas about delivering an invocation at a city hall meeting and he agreed.
“I came to the conclusion (after last year’s Supreme Court ruling on prayer at government meetings) that if we want to continue the practice of having invocations we do need to be inclusive and that cannot exclude people who are non-believers,” Maas said. “I do think we need to be very inclusive and more diverse.”
Christian pastors had mostly been presenting prayers at the meetings throughout the year.
As previously reported, Greece, New York, the city at the center of the cited Supreme Court case, passed a new policy following the ruling that some believe will keep atheists from delivering invocations. The town council in Greece unanimously voted in August 2014 to adopt a new policy that would require the clerk to compile a list of leaders of various faiths that would be candidates for invocation invitations.
“The Assemblies List shall be compiled by using reasonable efforts, including research on the Internet, to identify all ‘churches,’ ‘synagogues,’ ‘congregations,’ ‘temples,’ ‘mosques’ or other religious assemblies in the Town of Greece,” the policy states. “All religious assemblies with an established presence in the Town of Greece are eligible to be included in the Assemblies List, and any such religious assembly can confirm its inclusion by specific written request to the clerk.”
Some cities and towns across the nation have turned away atheists who sought to deliver invocations, and officials in Brevard County, Florida are currently fighting a lawsuit from the Central Florida Freethought Community over the matter.