The Pennsylvania state senate begins each day with a religious prayer, usually from a Christian pastor.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State requested that the “prayer policy” be amended — they they should use a non-sectarian prayer so people of other faiths or no faiths were not excluded and state/church separation was not violated.
While the non-sectarian prayer idea hasn’t made much headway, one senator is at least taking a step forward:
Paul Carpenter, a columnist for the Allentown Morning Call, reported recently that state Sen. Lisa Boscola of Northampton has indicated that she will invite an atheist to the Senate chambers. Boscola’s offer came in response to a Carpenter column in which he proposed that real diversity would mean including a non-religious speaker every now and then.
This only happened, though, after a couple glitches:
Carl Silverman of Pennsylvania Nonbelievers Inc. saw that column and sent Boscola the names of three candidates for the invocations — Margaret Downey of the Freethought Society, Steven Neuberger of Pennsylvania Nonbelievers, and Nirmal Singh of the state’s Sikh religious community.
In February, Boscola’s office told me those three recommendations were forwarded to the Senate’s caucus administrator, Sen. Terry Punt, R-Franklin, who arranges invocations.
When I checked with Punt’s office, aides denied it.
According to Silverman, that was only a snafu.
Long story short, the snafu seems to have been a legitimate accident. The aides eventually got the memo.
An atheist hasn’t spoken to the Senate yet, but it appears one will very soon.
It wouldn’t be a huge milestone, but it would open the doors to more non-Christians giving (likely) non-sectarian speeches. That would be much better than the system they currently have in place.
If you haven’t seen it yet, read Herb Silverman‘s story of giving a secular invocation to the Charleston, South Carolina city council. It’s never easy, is it?