Metroplex Atheists Square Off Against Rowlett's Mayor. The Mayor Says He'll Pray for Them.

rowlett mayor todd gottel.jpg
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Rowlett Mayor Todd Gottel
This week in godlessness brings us to Rowlett, where Mayor Todd Gottel is feeling pretty good. He'll be running unopposed soon for his second term as mayor and third term on the City Council. The rest of the time, he owns a "sales and marketing" company, per the city of Rowlett's website, is a precinct chair for the Dallas County Republican Party, and runs the sound boards over at First Baptist Church of Rowlett, from whence he posts frequent Facebook updates. And he's not about to let a bunch of atheist malcontents take that away from him.

"Interesting visitors at the Rowlett Council Meeting tonight," Gottel wrote on Facebook on March 5. "The Metroplex Athiests [sic] came to protest our Council Invocations before our City Council meetings begin. Please pray for them that they may be open to God's love and His word."

The Metroplex Atheists contend that Gottel seems to have missed the point of their visit.

The Rowlett City Council (like the Dallas City Council) chooses to begin each of its meetings with an invocation -- a prayer, and one that's directed in Jesus' specific direction, rather than some general, fuzzy Supreme Being. The prayer itself isn't illegal: the Supreme Court ruled back in 1983, in Marsh v. Chambers that legislative prayer could be constitutional and not a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, provided " there is no indication that the prayer opportunity has been exploited to proselytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other faith or belief."

But Randy Word, president of the Metroplex Atheists, writes in an email that the Rowlett pregame prayers, because of their homogeneously Christian nature, are "exclusionary, divisive, discriminatory and just plain unfair."

"It is not just the mayor," he writes. "It is the entire City Council."

Word says atheist groups have been trying to get the Rowlett City Council to change its prayer policy since 2010. Back then, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a national church-state separation advocacy group, sent a letter about the prayers to the city on behalf of an anonymous resident.

Rowlett never responded, Word says, nor have they ever replied to subsequent letters and emails from both the FFRF or the Metroplex Atheists. "But they did put a written invocation policy in place. The policy states that the invocation will not be on the council agenda -- but it is. The policy states that they will offer the invocation before the meeting starts -- but they do it at the start. They don't appear to be adhering to their own policy."

In an interview with NBC-DFW, Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Michael Gallops insisted that the modified policy makes it clear that any religious group is welcome to pray before the council meetings. However, he added, "The established bodies of religion in Rowlett are Christians. There's a Catholic church here, there are multiple denominations of churches but there aren't any from other religions."

Word says that several members of the Metroplex Atheists spoke during the public comment period of the last council meeting, on behalf of unhappy Rowlett residents who don't necessarily want to go public with their nonbelief. "Our opinions and concerns fell on deaf ears as we expected," he says. "The council thinks they are acting in accordance with the Constitution, but we obviously don't agree."

Word says the Metroplex Atheists will continue challenging the invocation policy in Rowlett. They still have moral support from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which writes in a section on legislative prayer on its website that it's "inappropriate and coercive for public officials -- many of whom have tax-paid positions and all of whom take an oath to uphold secular constitutions -- to schedule prayer at government functions, or open government meetings with prayer and religious ritual."

For his part, as Mayor Gottel declaimed on Facebook, he doesn't see any issue: "For the record.... As long as I am Mayor and the US Supreme Court says it's ok, I am praying!!!!" he wrote. "Jesus is my Lord and Savior and I am proud of it!!! I know how the VAST majority feels and I will not let a few out of town people change our city!!!"


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50 comments
janerleblanc
janerleblanc

I wish these politicians would know what it's like to not be represented by your own government.

Thanks for the reporting, Anna.

Rowlett
Rowlett

I disagree on the grandstanding. We have been quietly and reasonably trying to get their attention on this for quite some time and have been ignored.

ssdanny69
ssdanny69

@shwhitley - Huh?  Are you saying that EVERYONE in Rowlett is a Darlie Routier?  Something like Stepford Wives?  That we all go around killing our children?  That's harsh. 

rbtxcat75
rbtxcat75

This is a dumb story.  If the "citizens" of Rowlett object, then take that to the city council.  But these "Metroplex" atheist don't even live in the city.  Tired of hearing stories where one small town does anything religious and a group hundreds or thousands miles away gets "offended."

garlandsucks
garlandsucks

I'm an atheist who couldn't give a flying fuck if and when anyone prays..preachy atheists are just assholes

garlandsucks
garlandsucks

I like to picture Jesus in a tuxedo T-Shirt because it says I want to be formal, but I'm here to party.

nammer
nammer

Rowlett is a shit hole...think a town full of Darlie Routiers and you pretty much have it pegged

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

"Ok, before we get down to city business, Mayor, how about a little of that voo-doo that you do, so well."

And to think that many of these religious types are the very same conservatives that ridicule Muslims for their "stone-age beliefs".

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

When it comes to controlling guns these people scream, "Constitution!"  When it comes to separation of Church and State, "Constitution?  What Constitution?" 

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

He may want to check the stats, because not even in the US could his views be considered the VAST majority anymore.

But the atheists picked a pretty stupid battle in my opinion. 

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

this is a fun debate, honestly both sides are being shit heads too.  If the atheists dont want prayer well then dont pray or wait outside while they pray.  And there is nothing wrong with the good mayor saying a prayer for the atheist, he just shouldnt be telling them that they should be open to god.  

CogitoErgoSum
CogitoErgoSum topcommenter

@rbtxcat75 Sorry you're tired of hearing about the ongoing fight to have the Establishment Clause lawfully observed by bible-thumping ignoramuses.

Rowlett
Rowlett

@rbtxcat75 I am one of the citizens of Rowlett. I did take my objections to the city council. Repeatedly. And was repeatedly ignored. This "small town" has almost 57,000 residents. So not so small, although I don't see how size matter. MA has many members in Rowlett, as well as the surrounding communities, making up the metroplex.

markzero
markzero

@rbtxcat75 the tyranny of the majority may be keeping local atheists and other non-Christians from speaking up. You're okay with this?

CogitoErgoSum
CogitoErgoSum topcommenter

@garlandsucks So I guess it's just "preachy" when residents feel they must hold their local government to the standards set forth by the U.S. Constitution?

CitizenofRowlett
CitizenofRowlett

@Scruffygeist Sorry I didn't realize defending one's constitutional rights (both national and state constitution) is a "stupid battle". The prayer offers NOTHING to the business at hand.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

@ScottsMerkin Why can't the pray-babies do what Jeebus said and pray quietly to themselves? Why does it have to be a big spectacle? Look at me! I'm praying!

As others have said, try to get them to say Allah Akbar and all Hell will break loose. This is nothing more than religious freaks trying to force their freaking religion on everyone else, like it or not.

CogitoErgoSum
CogitoErgoSum topcommenter

@ScottsMerkin It might seem that simple, but why should residents of the town who happen to not be Christians feel excluded from the beginning of a council meeting? Town councils are about the business of protecting their residents' interests, not promoting one brand of religion over another. What's wrong with a moment of silence in which those who wish to pray may do so and to their particular god, or not at all? Must Christians force everyone to listen to them publicly proclaim their faith -- and at a city government meeting?

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@ScottsMerkin ... that and it doesn't seem to be that they are calling the atheists poopooheads and stating that they have an express ticket on the bus traveling down the road to perdition because they are atheists.


Personally, if I were the mayor, I would invite them to make whatever speech they want asking for guidance from whatever on whatever basis so that the deliberations of the council are fair, open, considerate, respectful and all those other commonly held (hopefully) beliefs that we have for each other and the future.


"I like your Christ very much, it is your Christians that I do not like.  They are so unlike their Christ." -- M. Ghandi


"I like your Jesus very much.  But he no help with curve ball." -- Pedro Cerrano

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

@CitizenofRowlett I don't like God Bless America being forced down our throats by Major League Baseball, but you know what I do? Look at a girl's ass while it's playing and wait for it to end. It's not violating my rights since I have the right to ignore it.

And I'm as atheist as anyone. It's still a stupid battle.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@Montemalone @ScottsMerkin I honestly dont care either way, its easy pick on mayor and his beliefs, but the atheist are not the innocent bystanders here, they are grandstanding as much as he is

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@CogitoErgoSum @ScottsMerkin oh jesus christ, people get their fucking panties in wad over stupid shit,  these atheists are turning out to be as batshit crazy as bible thumpers they are going after.  No one is excluding them, they just dont have to pray, fuck, everyone of them prolly has an Iphone, just put your earphones on and dont listen then

CogitoErgoSum
CogitoErgoSum topcommenter

@ScottsMerkin @CitizenofRowlett @Scruffygeist See, that would be fine if we were talking about a Rotary Club meeting, but we're talking about the city basically making a Christian prayer part of official city business. That is contrary to the Establishement Clause of the First Amendment.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@ScottsMerkin 

Such is the power of Jobu, Jobu bring you strength to do it yourself  ... Jobu let you think that you can do it yourself ... Jobu not greedy ...

Rowlett
Rowlett

@ScottsMerkin @CitizenofRowlett  Rowlett's invocation policy restricts the invocation to ministers that have churches in Rowlett, so no, it is not true that other religions are allowed to give an invocation.

A city council meeting cannot be compared to a private funeral. 

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@CogitoErgoSum @ScottsMerkin i hadnt realized they were limiting it to established religions in the community,  should have read closer,  Thats a pretty shitty out, fuck him and his prayer

CogitoErgoSum
CogitoErgoSum topcommenter

@ScottsMerkin Sorry, courts have ruled on this and have come down on the side of interpreting the First Amendment to mean that prayer is only allowed if the governmental body is not favoring any one religion. The fact that the council is restricting the invocation only to representatives of "established" religious institutions within the city limits is a surreptitious form of de facto discrimination against those of other religions.

markzero
markzero

@ScottsMerkin Generally, funerals are private matters, so it's right and appropriate for you as an attendee to simply accept their choice of ritual if you choose to attend. But these are public officials meeting to perform their public duties. I think your comparison only works if there is an established state religion.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@CitizenofRowlett did he not say that if someone else wanted to pray for a different religion they were allowed to per the ruling of the Supreme Court?  


Also, no it wouldnt bother me.  When I attend a funeral I dont expect the church to pray to my god or whatever I believe, I accept who they pray to and leave it be

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@CitizenofRowlett @ScottsMerkin  

I want to make an offering to Jobu.  We give him rum, cigar, chicken, he take fear from meeting.  He scare evil away.  Meeting gets decision without killing, We all go home happy Jobu smiles

CitizenofRowlett
CitizenofRowlett

@ScottsMerkin Would you still have this opinion if it were Islam prayers offered at the start of the meeting and you were being asked to pray to Muhammed?

BlowtorchOfReason
BlowtorchOfReason

@ScottsMerkin how can you not say that the Christian prayer invoked at the city council meeting, by the mayor and city council is not the city endorsing a single religion? 

People have the freedom of religion.

Governments are prohibited from establishing or endorsing a religion.  There is a huge difference.

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