Religion is a touchy, personal subject, and becomes touchier and more personal when someone tries to convince you yours is wrong.
It gets even more sensitive when the person speaking holds government authority, and is speaking while in that government role.
At city council meeting Monday, only two people in the whole room spoke out against prayers before council meetings. One was a gentleman from Meade County that nobody on the council really mentioned after he spoke. The other was a South School of Mines & Technology student who received praise from pretty much the whole council for speaking his mind with courage and resolution, asking the council to end the practice of prayers before meetings.
Cole Bedford, the student, clarified that he was not the person who filed a complaint to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has now asked the city council in a letter to end the prayers. Though Bedford grew up in a church-attending home in Sturgis, he is now an atheist.
That prompted at least one council member to teach, preach or attempt to impart some wisdom to Bedford. From the dais, Bill Clayton regaled Bedford (who he singled out) with a story about a friend of his who turned from the atheism of his youth to the Bible of his wiser, grayer years.
"I was younger once, too, and as we grow older we’re exposed to things in this life. Wisdom, I always say, comes with gray hair and if you don’t have any gray hair, you’re too young to have wisdom."
To be sure, Clayton applauded Bedford's courage speaking against the majority opinion in room chock-full of Christians who vowed to strongly resist having prayers removed.
I'm including the whole text of what Clayton said, below. I'd like to add that the tone of Clayton's speech was given, to my ears, in utmost sincerity. The first paragraph is less relevant, skip to the third through seventh for the meat of the speech.
"Thank you Mr. Mayor. I have to disagree with Alderman Nordstrom, sorry, not because I’m complicated. Ritchie, as a former military guy, you know when someone rises against you, you have a plan and I think having this policy is having a plan. I came tonight with some prepared statements, but as is typical, other people speak, other people cover what you wanted to say, you hear things that just move you in a different direction. And forgive me if it’s just a little bit disjointed.
"To the gentleman from School of Mines, and I’m sorry I forgot your name, I was trying to write down people’s names as they spoke (Bedford: “Cole Bedford”). Cole, you’re articulate and you’re brave. You have my admiration for being able to stand there tonight and say what you did. It reminds me of a story, two as a matter of fact.
"One of my dearest friends in this town is state Rep. Don Kopp. Now for those of you who don’t know him personally, if you have a personal relationship with Don, he’s Pete Kopp. I’ve always known him as Pete. A little confusing and I don’t even know the story behind the two names. What most people don’t know about Don Kopp, my friend Pete, is that he grew up in a Bible-preaching household and his mother Marcy was just a wonderful, wonderful lady.
"And Pete, in his younger years, thought he was an atheist, and in his atheistic views set out to disprove the Bible using science. And the harder he tried to disprove the Bible using science, the more he found that the Bible proved science. I will say this: Christianity is not a religion. And I see laughter, but it’s okay. I was younger once, too, and as we grow older we’re exposed to things in this life. Wisdom, I always say, comes with gray hair and if you don’t have any gray hair, you’re too young to have wisdom.
"Now, Christianity is not a religion of exclusion. Anybody who’s been around any Bible preaching is familiar with John 3:16. “God gave his only beloved son that whosever shall believe in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” It is God’s will that nobody perish. Nobody is excluded. And all of us have heard: love the sinner, hate the sin.
"The Bible is replete with instructions. Our laws of our land come from the Bible. It’s frightening to think how lawless this land might be were we not to have guidance given in that book. I remember a discussion with my son who said I hate all these rules. And he had some terrible examples as a youngster of what was wrong with the rules. And I said, “Well, if there’s no rules, then that means I can choose to do whatever I please. How about if I don’t like driving in traffic, how about I just drive down the sidewalk?” And he said, “Dad that’s crazy, you can’t do that.” I said, “You said no rules.”
"You have to have the rules. And the rules, like it or not, come from that book we call the Bible. I agree that we need a plan and I look forward to giving our city attorney the time to put together that plan so we can move forward and continue in the vein we have been and continue the invocation. I thank all of you for being here tonight."