Boyle County native Ricky Smith was attending a Christian church service about five years ago when he had an unusual epiphany — he was an atheist.
Smith, 46, says he is the county resident who recently met with Boyle County Judge-Executive Harold McKinney about the issue of Judeo-Christian prayers during public meetings. As a result, county magistrates voted to change the invocation to a “moment of silence.”
A 1984 Boyle County High School graduate who has lived in the county his entire life, Smith had attended several fiscal court sessions because he hoped to run for political office. He says his dreams were shattered when he felt like a “second-class citizen” during the prayer portion of the meeting.
“Being expected to pray just to be a part of local government is not going to work for me, nor would it work for Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, pagans or Wiccans,” Smith said.
When Smith accepted his atheism, he did not plan to become an activist for the separation of church and state. He met privately with McKinney and has unsuccessfully attempted several times to meet with Danville Mayor Bernie Hunstad about the prayers conducted at Danville City Commission meetings.
Even though Smith deliberately did not express his views publicly, an unknown person using the website Topix “outed” Smith as an atheist and the person responsible for ending public prayer during Fiscal Court meetings. A former friend also made disparaging remarks about Smith on Facebook, and a few people made harassing telephone calls to his residence, he said.
“They’re getting down right mean,” Smith said.
He noted that if ridiculing a man’s weight and lack of religious beliefs is a proper Christian attitude, then he is now even more convinced that atheism is the right path for his life.
“I’ve become a better person since I realized I was an atheist,” Smith said. “I am much more tolerant now.”
When Smith was attending Christian church services, he felt “brainwashed” into being prejudiced against all homosexuals as well as heterosexual people who had premarital sex.
“People are not understanding that freedom of religion also means freedom from religion,” Smith said. “We are in a diverse country.”
Smith said he and other taxpayers who are not Christians should not have their money used for promoting Christianity, especially since the U.S. Constitution mandates the separation of church and state. He hopes the Fiscal Court will continue the “moment of silence” and stop having prayer meetings in the fiscal courtroom right before the official sessions.
“It’s still not a separation of church and state to openly have Christian prayers right before a public meeting,” Smith said.
Smith does not intend to stop fighting for the cause despite the insults and borderline threats made against him, but hopes people who have similar beliefs will also come forward.
Smith is also concerned about the potential implications of local officials voting against civil rights laws.
“We would still have slavery if government leaders can just say the majority vote overrides basic civil rights,” Smith said. “Women would probably still be unable to vote. A Muslim could become President of the United States and order everyone to bow down and pray to Allah.”