Hemant Mehta won’t be asking anyone to bow their heads or clasp their hands when he delivers the invocation at the March 12 DuPage County Board meeting.
Instead, the Downers Grove atheist will ask them to look to one another for guidance.
“It’s not going to be a prayer,” he said. “No one elected them to live out some religious ideology. We elected them to look out for the people they represent.”
Mehta contacted county officials after reading about the discussion about county board invocations. In December, three county board members expressed a desire to end the tradition of invocations before board meetings, pointing to the “primarily Christian prayers” at the start of each meeting.
Other board members noted members of other faiths, including Jewish and Muslim, have been included in the long-standing tradition.
Mehta is believed to be the first atheist in recent history to deliver an invocation before county board members, officials said.
“I think it’s great,” board member Dawn DeSart, an Aurora Democrat, said of Mehta’s upcoming invocation. DeSart was among the three county board members who recently raised questions over the tradition of having invocations before county board meetings.
“I think Mr. Mehta will represent an important segment of our community in a respectful matter,” she added, noting she has been in contact with Mehta since he was assigned the March 12 date to deliver his invocation.
She said she supported having “people of all religions and even those representing a non-religion part of the county” deliver respectful invocations before board meetings.
Mehta writes for the friendlyatheist.com and has spoken at various events. However, he said he has never delivered an invocation before a governmental body.
“I’m excited to do it and I’m glad they were willing to let me speak,” he said, lauding the county’s professionalism in scheduling him to speak. “I hope they are as receptive to what I have to say as they are to all the other speakers who invoke the name of God.”
While he welcomes the opportunity to appear before the board, he questions the practice of an invocation – typically delivered as a prayer – before a government meeting.
“Why are we having a prayer to open a government meeting at all,” he asked. “Why can’t people pray on their own time?
“We didn’t elect them to be pastors, we elected them to do their jobs and represent the community.”
However, if the county is going to continue with the practice of invocations before a board meeting, at least they are including those with non-Christian backgrounds, he said.
“If this can help them move that conversation forward, I think that’s a good thing for everyone,” he said. “I don’t care if they keep the invocations as long as they make sure they are diverse and extending an invitation to everyone.”
Alicia Fabbre is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.