When an Atheist gives the invocation

Oskaloosa, Iowa, like many government institutions, begins its City Council meetings with an invocation.

It’s usually given by a member of the clergy but when the Eastern Iowa Atheists group asked to give last night’s opening message, the city said “sure”, the Oskaloosa Herald says.

“If you don’t believe in God, whose help are you asking for guidance or protection?” one resident asked on the paper’s Facebook page.

Justin Scott answered that in his invocation: our own power.

“First, the power to empathize with those that are different from you; that have taken a different path than you, that have experienced and continue to experience different struggles than yours. The human power to embrace diversity in your community, seeing it not as a threat but as an opportunity to learn and grow as neighbors. The human power to strive for inclusion in your city government. It is here to work for all citizens but only if you demand more from it. The human power to demand justice within your city, as we are all, in one way or another, all minorities,” he said.

After the meeting, a police officer escorted Scott out of the building after the editor of the local paper reported receiving death threats and the city council approved a sidewalk project and agreed to study time limits on downtown parking.

  • MrE85

    You never seem to hear atheists threaten to kill anyone, even though they don’t believe in eternal damnation.

    • Atheism’s recent history isn’t exactly free of killing. Stalin, Mao, Khmer Rouge? Every major group has extremists who would kill in its name given the chance

      • Frank Dorka

        No one has ever killed in “the name of NO god”. Whereas…..

        • Jerry

          Never? You don’t have to believe in a higher power to be violently intolerant.

          • Frank Dorka

            Intolerant? I can’t even make a comment on this site without being deleted. So much for freedom of speech in a Christian nation?

          • KTFoley

            Welcome to NewsCut.

            A combative stance from the get-go might be normal or productive on other boards but this is not one of those places.

            This is one of those places where posters are expected to know, among other things, that free speech claims are limited to government-imposed restrictions.

        • That’s hardly a useful comparison. A lack of belief in something will hardly inspire a, person to get off the couch, let alone kill. A more useful comparison is to look at the particular ideas that commonly flow from atheism (ie an aggressive secularism).

          • Frank Dorka

            I guess you could call the Constitution “aggressive secularism” couldn’t you? That would make Christians, tyrannists.

          • I said no such thing

          • Frank Dorka

            You disagree?

          • Yes

          • DoorknobHead

            Show me a person with a lack of belief in something, then I’ll so you a person that indeed does not rise from their bed or couch because that person has ceased living (died), has not yet been born, or was born with a completely dysfunctional brain. How would a person become so morbid as to posit that other humans live and do not believe in “something” because those people don’t believe the same things? or can’t be inspired by experiences from the one and only life they possess? There seems to be a lack of empathy towards others. . .
            “With flesh and blood like one of you [Christians]…”

            Epic belief battles of History:


            > Your name reminds me of Robert Browning, and here is one of his poems. Yet maybe, if your claim is correct, he didn’t bother to get off the couch to write it and continually failed to be inspired by life…


            It is a lie–their Priests, their Pope,
            Their Saints, their . . . all they fear or hope
            Are lies, and lies–there! through my door
            And ceiling, there! and walls and floor,
            There, lies, they lie, shall still be hurled
            Till spite of them I read the world!


            “You think Priests just and holy men!
            Before they put me in this den
            I was a human creature too,
            With flesh and blood like one of you…”
            — Robert Browning.
            “The Confessional” (1845, written in Spain)


            The Ring and the Book, iv., Browning wrote:

            “Mothers, wives, and maids,
            There be the tools wherewith priests manage men.”

          • True, a lack of belief in a god will not inspire anyone to bomb a women’s health clinic, kill a gay person, or physically assault an atheist. But I think we can do without that sort of activity. We atheists get more than enough motivation from the things we do believe in – things that are based in what we know to be real.

            As for this “aggressive secularism” you speak of, I have yet to hear a single report of any “aggressive secularist” killing or even oppressing a theist. Religious folks seem to think persuasive verbal arguments are “aggressive”. They are not.

            Atheists are called “aggressive” if they merely laugh at a religious person’s beliefs. Meanwhile, there are believers out there like Laura Reid, who will grievously harm atheists simply because of their non-belief. When you call atheists’ verbal assaults “aggressive” you devalue a word that should more accurately be applied to physical assault.

          • My point was precisely that people are in fact motivated by the things they do believe in, so we agree on that.

            I wasnt talking about the US when I mentioned aggressive secularism. Disqus thread formatting isn’t the greatest for providing context. I was again thinking more of cases like the Soviet Union, where their truly aggressive secularism drove them to prosecute and kill Christians, particularly Orthodox

      • JamieHX

        It wasn’t atheism that killed people in those regimes. It was psychopathology and probably greed too.

        • Jerry

          And how is that different than when it is done in the name of religion?

      • Only Christians, it seems, are the ones making death threats in the USA in 2017. An atheist does one invocation – just once out of the whole year, and his life is threatened! Christians do the invocation almost every other day – were their lives threatened yesterday, or the day before, or in the weeks before that? Of course not! That’s pretty embarrassing for Christians, but are you embarrassed? Of course not – instead, you’re blaming us once again for Stalin – a guy who died over 60 years ago! What a gall you folks have! I guess we atheists should just be happy you don’t go full hypocrite and claim Christianity is the religion of peace. When was the last time an atheist sent death threats to Christians for doing a city council invocation?

        • Frank Dorka


      • DoorknobHead

        Let me point out that any government forcing atheism or forcing theism both are not secular. One definition of secularism is: “attitudes neutral on matters of belief”. Any government that either imposes religion, or imposes irreligion (atheism) are not secular. Both the religious and irreligious should strive for secular government so that all the people in “we the people” can have freedom of conscience, no matter their beliefs. Non-secular government is terrible for everyone except the one narrow belief system in power forcing others towards their narrow beliefs — even for Christians, because there are several Christian sects that have in the past discriminated, including with acts of violence, against other Christian sects in the USA before the first amendment was enacted.

    • John

      I was just thinking that death threats aren’t a particularly Christian move.

      There’s irony there somewhere.

      • Frank Dorka

        I have been an atheist for over 40 years. Guess what? MANY Christians have wished me dead. It’s a very Christianlike thing to do.

        • John

          Don’t get me wrong, I’m not surprised. I just find it ironic every single time.

          • Frank Dorka

            Christians never quite get “irony” do they?

        • Bob Sinclair

          Glad to see you paint the broad brush of condemning most Christians in your rant. How many other groups do you condemn?

    • John Climber

      This statement makes no sense.

      • Frank Dorka

        I understand it completely. Apparently you have never experienced life as an atheist?

        • John Climber

          I’m glad to hear that you lack the desire to murder other people, but you seem to misunderstand the OP’s statement. It’s absurd and ridiculous to claim that atheists have never threatened to kill others–it’s a petty statement, actually–and for that reason it shouldn’t be taken seriously. I regret bothering to respond.

    • I’m guessing Stalin and Mao weren’t really, technically, “threatening” to kill all the people that died during their respective times in power? 😉

  • AL287

    It is a very good invocation and calls on all of us to work together for the good of society.

    After the death threats Scott received, I’m surprised the city council members weren’t tarred and feathered and run out of town.

    I can only imagine the reaction if a Muslim had offered the invocation.

    Let the outrage begin.

    • ec99

      A Moslem was refused to give the invocation in the North Dakota House of Representatives.

      • AL287

        That doesn’t surprise me in the least.

        I made the mistake of living in western North Dakota during the oil boom.

        And no, the job was not associated with the oil industry. After 9 months I high tailed it back to Minnesota.

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  • Death threats? From Christians? I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise.

  • Wesley Unke

    Very well done Justin. Words I hope all of humanity in Oskaloosa (deist and non-deist based folks) can agree on! Thanks for your brave and positive activism. Sadly many “Christians” have been taught to fear, shun, and even hate those outside their religious sect.

    Maybe as more friends and family members show they are openly secular some of those Christians will come to see us as loving and caring as they are. …If not more loving and caring. And maybe learn our American pledge and most money was changed in 1954. And maybe learn more about all the sadistically mean and outlandishly crazy sections in the Bible they were never taught.

    I’m also a proud to be an Eastern Iowa Atheist. Now I openly communicate this “label” and let others know I am caring, science minded, justice seeking, and community oriented citizen. I seek to do the most good with cooperation of others who may be different than me. E pluibus unum / Out of many, one! America has great strength in it’s diversity! ► “We the People” ◄

    • kennedy

      I concur that the invocation was well done. I also concur that it is sad that so many deist and non-deist folks have been taught to fear, shun, and hate. Better to love, embrace and learn from those who differ from us.