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Friday, June 27, 2014
Wiccan Uninvited From Leading Prayer at City Council in Alabama After Community Complains

Wiccan Uninvited From Leading Prayer at City Council in Alabama After Community Complains

Blake Kirk (L) from Huntsville, Ala. in a video interview posted on June 26, 2014. | (Photo: WHNT News 19 video screencap)

A Wiccan man from Huntsville, Alabama, was uninvited from delivering the opening invocation at a City Council chamber meeting after community members reportedly expressed concerns about his religion.

"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 Kirk told WHNT News 19 Thursday night.

"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," he added.

Huntsville City Attorney Peter Joffrion said Kirk had initially been asked to deliver the invocation at the meeting, but that invitation was canceled after community members found out that he is a practicing Wiccan.

Huntsville has received complaints by secular organization Freedom From Religion Foundation for its tradition of opening meetings with a Christian prayer. Although it has made public efforts to become more inclusive, a member of the Wiccan religion delivering the invocation was a decision challenged by the community.

AL.com added that Kirk had been listed on the agenda as "Priest of the Oak, Ash and Thorn tradition of Wicca."

Joffrion insisted that the decision to uninvite Kirk is aimed at ensuring that the invocation remains a time of focus and coming together.

"We decided to pull back, to do some education maybe, and to introduce him more gently at another time," the Huntsville City attorney said.

The Rev. Frank Broyles, a minister to the community from Faith Presbyterian Church, has offered to help coordinate a rotating roster of Christian, Islamic, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Baha'i, Confucian and other leaders though the Interfaith Mission Service, who could deliver the opening prayer.

Broyles had apparently listed Kirk as "leader in earth-based spiritual communities" for Thursday's agenda.

"I guess somebody got the collywobbles," Kirk added.

"Although this has been an attempt by the city to increase the diversity of those delivering the invocations, apparently diversity only goes so far. But the fact is, the First Amendment protects my right to practice my religion as much as anyone else. And governments are not supposed to pick and choose or to favor one religion over any other."

Still, the Wiccan man said that he hopes the incident does not lead to adverse results for Broyles or the Interfaith Mission Service.

Broyles revealed that although the majority of prayers at the City Council chamber are led by Christians, since 2012 prayers have also been offered by Muslim leaders. A Hindu and a Buddhist are scheduled to offer the invocation in the next two months.

"It's a navigation," Broyles said, "and we're learning as we navigate. But it's a goal worth pursuing. Diverse voices in prayer can contribute to the narrowing of the great divide fed by the bitterness and polarizing extremes growing in public life today."

Polls have shown that around 75 percent of residents in the Huntsville area identify themselves as Christian, while close to 25 percent follow several other faiths or none at all.

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