Ruth: An atheist visits, and all hell does not break loose

Published August 14 2014

It might be a good idea for the dedicated public servants presiding over the People's Republic of Pinellas Park to take note that after a pre-meeting prayer that wasn't really a prayer delivered by an unabashed atheist before the governing body of Largovania, not a single resident, or elected official, was turned into a pillar of salt.

It was billed as a "historic" moment a few days ago when Joe Reinhardt, an avowed atheist, stepped to the lectern before the Largo City Commission to offer some words of guidance and inspiration before the pols started ruminating about zoning issues, code enforcement matters, budget questions and all the other mundane, eye-glazing topics undertaken by municipal governments everywhere.

Lo and behold there was not a single plague of frogs in sight.

Reinhardt, a member of the Atheists of Florida, thanked the commissioners for the opportunity to speak, noted that human beings are the solution to human problems (who knew?), and then asked for a moment of silence. Regardless of how one might feel about godless atheists, give these folks points for brevity.

The question of who should be permitted to deliver the opening address at public meetings beyond traditional Christian hosannas simmered for years before the matter was recently settled by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, paving the way for people of other faiths, or no faith at all, to also participate. Plague of boils optional.

Since the high court's ruling, the atheists have requested a slot to provide the opening non-prayer at eight municipalities in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. Largovalia was the first to say yes. The infidels over in Clearwater and St. Petersburg will follow suit in the coming weeks.

The atheists, though, might find the Grand Duchy of Pinellas Park a bit of a civic crucible to bear. The city has ignored an effort on the part of the atheists to remove a Bible from the council lectern, and Principality of Pinellas Park spokesman Tim Caddell suggested that an atheist will be permitted to deliver the opening benediction at about the same time a camel passes through the eye of a needle.

"I have no indication that the council is willing to try new things," Caddell told the Tampa Bay Times' Anne Lindberg. Not willing to try new things? Really?

This isn't as if the city fathers of the Commonwealth of Pinellas Park were being asked to add roadkill tartare to the City Hall vending machines, or approve a resolution honoring Fidel Castro in the town square, or agree to designate March as Druid Month.

It is not all that big a stretch to allow an atheist to deliver the secular sermonette that no one will pay any attention to anyway.

Up in Washington and Tallahassee and across the board in city council, county commission and school board chambers, our elected officials are praying like there's no tomorrow before their meetings begin — only to completely disregard any divine inspiration as they go about the business of succumbing to the influence of lobbyists or special-interest groups or lawyers.

If all of these entreaties to the almighty had their intended effect, government would be a shining beacon of intellectual enlightenment — beginning with the Sanctuary of Pinellas Park. Alas, we're probably going to need a bigger hallelujah. Locusts optional.