It’s no secret that the City of Turlock is a religious community, even once being cited by “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” as having the most churches per capita in the nation.
Five years ago, the Turlock City Council made a decision to not only allow prayers before their meetings, but to also install the words “In God We Trust” above the Council dais.
But not everyone within the community supported the Council’s decision, as a group of Turlock citizens — some identifying themselves as not Christian/Protestant, and others as not belonging to any religion — contested the action, saying they felt “snubbed and ostracized” by those who they elected to represent them.
“The Council decided not just to allow sectarian, overtly Christian prayer, but to also paint ‘In God We Trust,’” said David Diskin, a member of the Stanislaus Humanists who attended the meeting in protest. “The meeting was fueled by a warning from the Freedom from Religion Foundation, who threatened that the city could be sued if the Establishment Clause of our Constitution continued to be violated.”
Diskin, who meets regularly with a growing group of local atheists, agnostics and humanists in Turlock, joined others who disputed the City Council’s decision in forming the Stanislaus Humanists group which currently has nearly 250 members. Many similar groups across the nation have taken up similar concerns to the Turlock City Council’s decision, often noting that while they are not “anti-religious” they believe that the government, including local government and the public school system, should not actively promote religion as the United States is not a theocracy. With the Constitution, which is often cited by similar groups to the Stanislaus Humanists, giving citizens the freedom of, and from, religion, the group believes that having the words “In God We Trust” and Christian-based prayers at Council meetings is an infringement of their constitutional rights.
This weekend, the group will be hosting an event at California State University, Stanislaus where the Co-President of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, Dan Barker, will be speaking about his “de-conversion” from a former evangelist minister to atheism, and how he continues to lead a moral life without needing to believe in a god.
“I am thrilled that such a prolific leader in the free-thought movement will be coming to a city that value their faith more than the Constitution,” said Diskin. “He will be an atheist in a den of lions, perhaps. With Easter the following day, Dan has a very special challenge for those who hold the Biblical account of Jesus’ resurrection as a literal truth. I encourage open minds to attend.”
The free, public event will be held at 6 p.m. on Saturday at CSU Stanislaus, Naraghi Hall of Science Room 101. Parking in the Naraghi parking lot is also free.