Justin Scott, from the Bremer County town of Denver, says he seeks out city councils that open their meetings with prayer and asks to be allowed to give a secular invocation instead.
Scott says all went relatively smoothly at last Wednesday’s city council meeting in Oskaloosa.
“They were very welcoming and really appreciated my request,” Scott says. “I got no push-back from the city. They definitely made sure their meetings were absolutely inclusive to everybody which is exactly our goal in our efforts. We want to make sure if cities are doing this, that they are including all voices and all world views.”
Scott says his invocations are centered on the power of humanity and not of any type of deity.
A U.S. Supreme Court case in 2014 made it clear that prayer is allowed before city council meetings, but he wants to make sure everyone is being invited to the table. Scott says he’s been giving invocations all across the region.
Scott says, “We’re less focused on doing any kind of prayer or séance or ritual and more focused on just reminding elected officials why they are there and who they’re representing.”
Prior to last week’s Oskaloosa city council meeting, Scott was told by a local reporter that someone had threatened to kill Scott if he gave his atheist invocation. Scott applauds the city and the police department for making him feel very safe.
“Thankfully, there was a very calm, mature response to my invocation,” Scott says. “Even those that were not pleased with me being there were respectful. They came up during public comments, made their opinions known but for the most part, it was ‘Iowa nice,’ if you will.”
In April, Scott says he became the first atheist to deliver an invocation before a regular session of the Iowa House of Representatives.