HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — A Wiccan priest opened an Alabama city council meeting with an invocation to the ‘gentle goddess and loving god’ this past week in an effort to make the prayers that open each session more diverse, appeasing church-state separation groups.
“O gentle goddess and loving god, we thank you for the beauties and the wonders of the day that you have given to us, and for the opportunity we have this evening to assemble here and work together to make Huntsville a better city for all of its residents,” Blake Kirk led those in attendance at the Huntsville City Council meeting on Thursday.
“We ask that you grant to the councilors and other officials present here tonight the wisdom they will need to make the best decisions that they may for the governance of our city,” he continued. “And further, we ask that you visit upon these chambers a spirit of peace and comity, so that all who need to speak before the council this evening may do so in an atmosphere of courtesy and respect, without needless anger or hostility.”
The majority of prayers being offered at Huntsville’s meetings have been Christian as the area is largely populated by Christian churches. However, in 2012, the Madison,Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation threatened to file suit over the prayers predominantly in Jesus’ name, and further contended that the practice of any kind of prayer at city council meetings was “unnecessary, inappropriate and divisive.”
“Council members are free to pray privately or to worship on their own time in their own way. They do not need to worship on taxpayers’ time,” a letter from the organization asserted.
In a compromise on the matter, Huntsville officials decided to open up the invocations to other religions in order to be more diverse in its presentation. In September, atheist Kelly McCauley of the North Alabama Freethought Association spoke during the meeting, referencing the virtues that had been lauded by those of the days of old.
“When the ancients considered the values that were proper and necessary for the good governance of a peaceful productive society, they brought to our minds the virtues of wisdom, courage, justice and moderation,” he said. “These values have stood the test of time.”
However, this past June, area residents were outraged when they learned that the city had agreed to allow a “Priest of the Oak, Ash and Thorn tradition of Wicca” to pray at an upcoming meeting. Officials then rescinded the invitation, citing concerns from the community.
“I gave the invocation earlier this year. At the time they did not ask me what my faith affiliation was, but when they did this time and I told them ‘Wiccan,’ I was told I was no longer invited to give it,” Kirk told television station WHNT.
But the city said that it didn’t completely ban the Wiccan priest, but rather wanted to lie low until the controversy had subsided.
“We decided to pull back, to do some education maybe, and to introduce him more gently at another time,” said Huntsville City Attorney Peter Joffrion.
That time was this past Thursday. Some remain opposed to the idea.
“The Christian Church is a part of the fabric of the Huntsville community. There is one on every corner. Wicca not so much,” wrote one commenter. “The devil is laughing.”
Photo: Singing Gandolf