I’m a member of the doubting community, not the faith community, and since my local city council in Lancaster, CA., gives an alternating member of the faith community a turn every two weeks to say a sectarian prayer at the start of each council meeting, I came to a meeting this afternoon, stepped to the microphone after a pastor by the name of Robert Enos gave a very earnest and sectarian prayer to Jesus, and respectfully requested two minutes to speak on behalf of doubt.
What’s fair is fair.
But the mayor, R. Rex Parris, a professing Christian, would have none of it. Instead, he gestured to the officer in attendance to have me removed from the building. He also, as I was being forcefully escorted out, gleefully taunted me a little, expressing amusement that I might suffer in jail for the night and yet have nothing to show for it. In Parris’s view, my act of civil disobedience was futile. It would change nothing.
In fairness, I was speaking out of turn, but I’m not sure under what category of Christian charity the mayor’s dismissive joking at my discomfort falls. Hmm.
And indeed, I very nearly ended up in jail. But I did manage to yell a response to the mayor from the back of the room on my way out. Regarding my request for equal time for the doubting community at city council meetings, I said:
I’ll take your response as a no.
The officer who brought me outside immediately put my hands behind my back, searched my pockets, and threatened to take me to jail. In fact, at first he said I was going to jail, but then he calmed down a little.
All of this was a matter of conscience and intellectual push-back for me. The fundamentalists on the Lancaster city council need to know that there are members of the local doubting community who want equal time after the prayer is offered. Not censorship of the faith community, but equal time. That means no censorship of the doubting community, nor the privileging of faith speech over doubting speech. The official dissing of the doubting community in favor of the faith community in Lancaster needs to end. We are here, we pay taxes, and we shouldn’t be closeted or treated as inferior or part of an out-group when attempting to participate in city council meetings.
And let me emphasize: all this happened because I wanted equal time for a moment of doubt to balance a publicly sanctioned expression of faith; because I wanted an injustice against the freedom of speech and equal treatment under the law to be righted.
But once outside, the officer told me that I couldn’t even return to the meeting, even if I promised perfect civility. And his was the word with the bark on it. He gave me one–and only one–warning. I would go to jail if I tried to reenter the meeting. I was not to come back during the public comments portion either, which means that others could express their disapproval of me without my being present to hear them or respond.
So now I’m basically silenced in my community for the night, in the inferior role of the village doubter. But thank God (if God exists) for blogging! The mayor and the city council can’t privilege expressions of faith over doubt here.