Secular Groups Respond to Legislative Prayer Ruling

Within a few hours of the release of the Supreme Court ruling in Greece v Galloway, which said local legislative bodies can have explicitly sectarian prayers at their meetings, the Freedom From Religion Foundation announced that they are supporting those who sign up to deliver secular invocations at such events:

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Town of Greece v. Galloway that governments can not only host prayers, those prayers can be pervasively sectarian: “To hold that invocations must be nonsectarian would force the legislatures that sponsor prayers and the courts that are asked to decide these cases to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech.” 572 U.S. 1, 12-13 (2014).

FFRF, the nation’s largest association of freethinkers, with more than 20,000 atheist and agnostic members nationwide, is responding to the hostile court ruling by announcing a “Nothing Fails Like Prayer Award.” The award will be given to citizens who succeed in delivering secular “invocations” at government meetings.

The individual judged to give the “best” secular invocation will be invited to open FFRF’s annual convention with the “invocation,” receiving an all-expenses-paid trip to our 37th annual convention at the Los Angeles Biltmore Oct. 24-25 and an honorarium of $500…

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor notes that despite the approval of sectarian governmental prayer by five Supreme Court justices, there is no requirement for government bodies to open with prayer. Citizen request has stopped the practice of government prayer throughout the country and can continue to do so.

“We’d like to see secular citizens flood government meetings with secular invocations that illustrate why government prayers are unnecessary, ineffective, divisive, embarrassing and exclusionary of the 20-30 percent of the U.S. population today that identifies as nonreligious,” Gaylor said.

The American Humanist Association responded in similar fashion, starting a new program that gives people the resources to deliver secular invocations at public events like council meetings. They’ll show you how to do it and you can apply for an official AHA endorsement, which may be necessary for getting approved to give an invocation.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    Extra credit if you give your secular invocation in arabic or cthonic.

  • Crimson Clupeidae

    ….And end it with ‘Hail Satan’, or better, “Hail Hydra.” :-)

  • http://www.atomiccitizen.net/ EricJohansson

    That would be great, maybe we get someone to say an invocation to the FSM. Shouldn’t stop at the non-religious though. I think it would be helpful if they tried hard to get all other minority religions equal access to say an invocation. Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, etc etc etc

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    What resources do people need to give secular invocations??? Start off with Voltaire’s prayer and then maybe offer a few thoughts from Lao-Tze about the folly of power?

  • mastmaker

    I can arrange for a appropriately religiously attired (read: semi-naked) Hindu priest to deliver a Sanskrit monotonal prayer!

  • Michael Heath

    I haven’t read the holding opinion where here’s what I don’t get.

    This came comes from two individual plaintiffs. Clearly and unequivocally, their respective religious freedom rights were infringed upon and worse yet, by the very government constitutionally obligated to instead defend those rights.

    And yet all the analysis I’ve seen focused on whether government violates the establishment clause when it prays. Obviously this is an arguable point. But what’s not arguable is that such prayers do infringe upon some people’s numerated constitutional religious freedom right, including mine. Did the court ignore the religious freedom clause in their ruling? And if so, why isn’t anyone pointing this out?

  • Scr… Archivist

    I rather like what Ed quoted from James Madison in this post: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/dispatches/2014/05/05/greece-v-galloway-ruling-predictable-but-very-dangerous/

    However, I don’t know if it would work as an invocation.

  • eric

    I think it would be helpful if they tried hard to get all other minority religions equal access to say an invocation. Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, etc etc etc

    Yes absolutely. These sorts of practices are not going to go away due to the occasional secular reading. The fundies wanting Christian prayer will just hold their noses for the 1 meeting/year that it happens at and continue to go about their business. What we really need to get local government to end this pratice is to fill their schedules with volunteers from nonchristian groups. It’ll only be when 8 of the next 12 invocations are non-Christian that they’ll begin to reconisder whether they want the pratice at all. Secularists of all stripes need to pull together on this to be effective. Including Christian secularists – probably the most effective response would be to get Christian pastors and such to sign up to give invocations, and have them use the time to give pro-securalism and pro-religious equality speeches. Not only might the local government folk pay more attention to such a person, but that sort of person can bypass whatever subtle or hidden discrimination the local government organization is going to use in their speaker selection process.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Michael Heath “But what’s not arguable is that such prayers do infringe upon some people’s numerated constitutional religious freedom right, including mine. Did the court ignore the religious freedom clause in their ruling? And if so, why isn’t anyone pointing this out?”

    ITS FREEDOM OF RELIGION(*1) NOT FREEDOM FROM RELIGION!

     

    *1. SPECIFICALLY FREEDOM OF CONSERVATIVE PROTESTANT RELIGION!(*2)

    *2. CONSERVATIVE ROMAN CATHOLIC RELIGION EVERY SECOND THURSDAY! AND MAYBE A CONSERVATIVE JEW ON HANOOKA OR OTHER BANKERS HOLIDAYS!

  • Nihilismus

    I’m reminded of the joke Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat character did a few times, asking people to observe a 10 minute moment of silence: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ePAxYw4IUo

  • http://www.themindisaterriblething.com shripathikamath

    Hey I had warned about this when Obama gave this nonsense credence last year. Well, pray away!

  • busterggi

    thank you Crimson!

  • http://polrant@blogspot.com democommie

    What would be best is if Christians came and read non-Christian prayers. Next best would be atheists pretending to be Christians and reading non-Christian prayers. No blood eagles, though.

  • jameshanley

    @Michael Heath,

    Clearly and unequivocally, their respective religious freedom rights were infringed upon … And yet all the analysis I’ve seen focused on whether government violates the establishment clause when it prays. … But what’s not arguable is that such prayers do infringe upon some people’s numerated constitutional religious freedom right, including mine.

    Not so, at least not so far as the Court has ever interpreted the Constitution to date (if my memory serves). Freedom of religion–the Free Exercise Clause–is an individual right to practice your own beliefs. If I’m a Muslim sitting through a Christian prayer, however offensive I may find it, it doesn’t inhibit my practice of my own beliefs. Compare, for example, to Employment Division v. Smith, or Church of the Lukumi Babalue Aye, or Gobitis.

    The Free Exercise Clause is a more curious beast. It’s original purpose was primarily to protect state governments from overweening federal authority, leaving them free to create their own establishments if they so chose. So it was not–in its origins–an individual right. Nor has it been fully and authoritatively established that it is one even now, this long after the 14th Amendment (and keep in mind, we still have not incorporated the entirety of the Bill of Rights through the 14th Amendment, so these questions are still open).

    Obviously establishment feels like a violation of our individual rights, and I also would like to see it firmly established as an individual right. But even then, it would be legally distinct from religious freedom arguments.

  • Crimson Clupeidae

    Good points, jameshanley. Isn’t there something else in play here though?

    Wasn’t one of the major reasons for the bill of rights to specifically avoid leaving it up to the majority? It was, and is,(IMO) intended to specifically protect the rights of the minority from the overwhelming vote of the majority.

    And that, to me, is one of the most atrocious parts about this ruling (and a few other recent rulings from this court). The results are in direct contradiction to the explicitly stated intent of the constitutional amendments as written.

    Of course one of my big complaints about the SCOTUS since, well, ever, is that they practically ignore what I think are the two most important amendments, namely 9 and 10.

  • Michael Heath

    James Hanley writes:

    The Free Exercise Clause is a more curious beast. It’s original purpose was primarily to protect state governments from overweening federal authority, leaving them free to create their own establishments if they so chose. So it was not–in its origins–an individual right.

    Certainly an original purpose of the establishment clause was to insure the federal government couldn’t infringe upon state power to maintain a state-established religion. But I don’t understand your logic on how a pre-14th A. religious freedom clause placed in the 1st Amendment helped the states protect their established churches rather than serve as protection to individuals interacting with the pre-14th Amendment federal government.

    We do have some history that the clause was intended to serve as a protection for individuals. In addition, some of the very framers arguing for a religious freedom clause in the U.S. Constitution were also leading the way in disestablishing religion in their respective colony/commonwealth and then, their state’s Their rhetoric clearly conveyed they did so, as a policy matter, in order to broaden the protection of not just religious freedom rights, but the broader right of conscience as well; not to merely protect state power from federal powers seeking to deny us our right of conscience.

    If what you argue is true than what’s the purpose of the religious freedom clause in the 1st Amendment? If the federal government was prohibited from establishing a religion, I see no utility to the religious freedom clause even being in the 1st Amendment prior to the 14th Amendment. Only until after incorporation could such a clause provide utility; where ironically, the clause wasn’t leveraged since the court’s didn’t demand the federal government defend that right until late in the 19th century.

    It’s my understanding that the Warren court’s Sherbert v. Verner opinion set a precedent a state needed to show a compelling interest to infringe upon an individual’s religious freedom rights, that’s consistent with your point about both incorporation and the clause protecting the exercise of our rights while not addressing government protection of that right.

    And then we have the conservatives on the Rehnquist court narrowing the obligation of states to not infringe upon our religious rights in Employment Division v. Smith. However they still prohibited laws that targeted a particular religious practice which further argues for protection of the exercise of this right without necessarily protecting us from government infringing on the right as I advocate as well.

    Well here I argue that those of us who are ‘nones’ are clearly encountering government prayer that infringes upon our rights, along with that of religionists who have a contempt for conservative Christianity. I understand your careful parsing between ‘protection’ and ‘exercise’ probably keeps me and my kind out in the wilderness. That’s no surprise given Scalia wrote the Rhenquist court’s opinion.

    But I still find their opinion logically indefensible even when we consider our precedents. Most of the same arguments that apply to government prohibition of prayer in schools with a captive set of students applies here, particularly the fact that government prayer demonstrates and reinforces a commitment by such governments to privilege the in-group and delegate the rest to second class status whose rights will most assuredly will not be equally protected when the government moves on subsequent matters. Which is fairly easy to demonstrate. One of the most vivid examples was Judge Roy Moore’s unfair treatment of defendants and their lawyers when he perceived the defendant’s lawyer was Jewish. This came out during the 10 Commandments controversy and was part of record that removed Moore from the bench.

    So I agree your points are consistent with a careful parsing of precedent. But contra what you claim, I do not see them as consistent with the original premises and motivations that contributed to the development and passage of the religious freedom clause in the first place. I also do see a logical construct of having these two clauses present if all these clauses did was to protect state power to infringe on the rights of those in their jurisdiction. I.e., the prohibition against establishment is to better protect our religious freedom rights; when government practices religion – some of us realize an infringe of a right that the federal government is mandated to protect – in writing – in the 1st Amendment.

    I did and continue to note that there’s an arguable point that government prayer isn’t necessarily a violation of the establishment clause. It’s only when we consider both clauses that we see the hypocrisy and defective thinking, and I think contra you, ahistorical premise of the court’s Galloway ruling.

  • Michael Heath

    I should note that James parsing the difference between exercise and protection has me going back to the well to bone-up. Namely, VINCENT PHILLIP MUÑOZ’s, THE ORIGINAL MEANING OF THE FREE EXERCISE CLAUSE: THE EVIDENCE FROM THE FIRST CONGRESS [caps in original].