HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – City Council chambers were filled with people Thursday evening for the regularly scheduled meeting of the Huntsville City Council.
But missing from the crowd was Blake Kirk, who – up until Wednesday – had been asked to give the invocation.
WHNT News 19 confirmed with Huntsville City Attorney Peter Joffrion that Blake had been asked to give the invocation Thursday, but when the agenda was released publicly earlier this week, several council members received community concerns about ‘a Wiccan’ being invited to speak.
Blake is a practicing member and clergy in the Wiccan faith, and surprisingly the man at the center of this controversy has given an invocation in front of city council in Huntsville before.
“I gave the invocation earlier this year, at the time they did not ask me what my faith affiliation was, but when they did this time and I told them ‘Wiccan,’ I was told I was no longer invited to give it,” Blake told WHNT News 19 from his home Thursday night.
WHNT News 19 made several attempts to get comment from city council members and Mayor Tommy Battle, but all questions were directed to city attorney Joffrion Thursday evening.
This comes on the heels of the city of Huntsville being attacked by the Wisconsin- based Freedom From Religion Foundation for its long-standing tradition of opening meetings with a prayer.
In the wake of those threats from the FFR, the city publicly made an effort to become more inclusive to other faiths in our community. But Thursday night it appears the level of inclusion was tested.
“It is not right, the city can not pick and choose what faiths they want to support and allow to speak and give the prayer,” Blake says.
Past Support For Prayers Before Meetings
“That’s the only way to do it, in my opinion,” Culver told our news partners at The Huntsville Times, back in 2012 at the time of the letter from the FFR. “Everybody should have an opportunity.”
Back in March of 2012 following the threats to sue the city over the invocation, city leaders pointed to the case of seven Atlanta-area taxpayers argued in Pelphrey v. Cobb County that the Constitution’s Establishment Clause permits only nonsectarian prayer at public meetings. The judges disagreed, saying that courts should not consider the content of legislative prayers unless they were clearly being used to proselytize or advance a particular religion.
“We’ll follow the guidelines of Pelphrey,” Joffrion told our news partners AL.com at that time.
Rev. Frank Broyles of the Interfaith Mission Service has offered to help coordinate a rotating roster of Christian, Islamic, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Baha’i, Confucian and other leaders who could be called upon to deliver the opening prayer.
While an estimated 75 percent of Huntsville residents identify themselves as Christians, Broyles said a “spiritual landscape” survey counted 14 non-Christian faiths practiced in the Rocket City, according to information from The Huntsville Times.
Note: Since our initial story aired June 26, at least two major national advocacy groups confirmed they have sent letters to Huntsville city leaders on this matter.