Waverly city council to change prayer practice

Published: Jun. 6, 2017 at 10:48 AM CDT
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The Eastern Iowa Atheists (EIA) have lobbied the mayor and city council of Waverly, Iowa to change it's prayer practice before city council meetings.

Mayor Charles Infelt announced at last night's meeting he and the council had developed a policy for prayers/invocations that would open the practice up to more voices and worldviews instead of just his.

For the first time since September 2016, someone other than Mayor Infelt delivered the opening prayer/invocation. A Muslim Wartburg student from Iran shared a traditional Muslim invocation, marking the fifth time since 2014 that Mayor Infelt hasn't delivered the prayer or invocation to start a council meeting.

"Waverly’s diversity and long treasured value of inclusivity shall be reflected in this organizing process, I hope we enjoyed and feel anchored by today’s invocation," Mayor Infelt added after the invocation.

This change comes after two months of pressure by the EIA. On April 3, 2017, the EIA approached the mayor and council at their regular council meeting to demand a more inclusive prayer/invocation process, requesting that an atheist be allowed to deliver an invocation before a meeting. The mayor responded with "there is no representation beyond the theistic approach" and said atheists at city council meetings are expected to say their own reflection. Mayor Infelt's prayer process replaced a longstanding practice in which the opening prayer had been delivered by various religious leaders, council members and Waverly residents.

The April 3 discussion about prayer and who should be allowed to deliver them and whether they're appropriate at all set off a series of discussions at meetings through April and May where the mayor clarified his position on atheist invocations, stating that he would be open to them taking place in a future meeting but offering no further details about whether that would happen, and led to an interesting discussion between council members on where they stood with prayer at governmental meetings, with a few stating that these prayers made them uncomfortable.

"The Eastern Iowa Atheists applaud the mayor and council for not only drafting this policy for prayers and invocations, providing some much needed clarity to the process but also for recognizing the importance of having a prayer/invocation process that is open to every voice and worldview," said EIA founder and Director Justin Scott, who attended the meeting last night and thanked the mayor and council for this change during the public comment section. "In a perfect world, prayers and other religious ceremonies would have no part in our secular government but since the US Supreme Court has ruled them to be legal, we want to insure the most inclusive and constitutionally sound process is offered by cities that choose to include this practice so that atheists have an opportunity to take in the process and have their voices heard."