Atheist to give first invocation at council meeting

For the first time in Grand Junction’s history, an atheist will deliver the invocation at Wednesday night’s City Council meeting.

The event is a landmark for the local atheists’ group, Western Colorado Atheists & Freethinkers, which first alerted city leaders to their handling of prayer before public meetings.

At that time, about 90-percent of the prayers were Christian-based, with people usually mentioning Jesus Christ, and about 10 percent of the prayers from Jewish people, said Anne Landman, a board member of the atheist group.

As of 2008, the city’s policy now states that invocations must be made available to people of all faiths and followings and it discourages proselytizing.

About 190 applicants are entered into a drawing to speak before the twice-monthly meetings. After being entered into the lottery years ago, the group’s turn came up recently and they were chosen to give the invocation at Wednesday’s meeting.

“We’re pretty happy about it,” Landman said. “We hope council members are happy about it, too.”

In the past, Landman said, some council members have not been receptive to the idea of allowing atheists to share in the invocation.

Landman said the group’s vice president, Joe Alaimo, will offer the remarks, but it’s not known what he’ll say.

“It’s up to him,” she said.

Since the group was formed in 2007, they have been active with meetings, a highway trash pickup and a farmer’s market booth.

A display in the “free speech” section at a Mesa County Public Library about the beliefs of atheism helped the group explain its ideas, Landman said.

Members have also stayed abreast of city and county meetings, monitoring them for people who invoke deities or attempt to proselytize during government meetings.

Publicity surrounding their protests has helped others to seek out the group. It has also given them a platform to create change that levels the playing field for people of all faiths in government affairs, Landman said.

That occurred last summer when the group was apprised that Mesa County was offering free admission to the county fair for all those in attendance during a prayer service at the fairgrounds.

After some media queried the athesist group about whether they agreed with that practice, the county retracted its offer of free admission and the service was held off site, Landman said.

An estimated 100 people belong to the group, she said.

“People now know there’s a secular opinion,” Landman said. “People come to us and say ‘I didn’t think there was anybody out there who felt like me.’ ”


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