New Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray’s First Act: Discriminate Against Atheists

***Update***: A peaceful protest of the event will occur this Sunday, January 2nd, from 6:30a – 8:15a at Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Place, NW. If you can come, please bring signs showing how you feel. Examples include:

  • “We Vote Too!”
  • “There’s Room for Everyone in Government!”
  • “Atheists Left Out in the Cold.”

Please email Amanda if you plan to attend.

Washington, D.C. Mayor-Elect Vincent Gray (a Democrat, if it matters to you) is having a prayer service as his first “official” event on January 2nd. It’s called “One City… Praying Together.”

That’s a nice way to begin a term as mayor: Raise a middle finger to all the non-theistic citizens in DC.

Gray could at least reach out to our community by inviting a Humanist Celebrant to the event to deliver a secular invocation.

The Secular Coalition for America suggested just that. But they were told there was no room for non-theists in the event.

“We would prefer that a government function such as an inauguration not be entwined with religion,” said Amanda Knief, a Humanist Celebrant and government relations manager for SCA. “However, we find it overtly discriminatory when we request to be part of an ecumenical service that is supposed to unite the entire city and are told there is no place for nontheists because the program is already set.”

The secular community in D.C. includes atheists, agnostics, humanists, secular Jews, and many other nontheists. “We have a rich community here in the metro area that is not being included in the mayor-elect’s inaugural events, and we think Mr. Gray should know about it,” Knief said.

Local groups are planning to protest the event if Gray continues to discriminate against non-theists.

For now, if you live in the area, you can send him an email letting him know what you think — the SCA has a sample form letter on their site.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • DA

    I don’t WANT godless groups at the invocation, because I’m against it in toto, so this protest seems asinine to me. I (and I have to assume, most secularists) want the politicians to show up and pick our pockets with as little ceremonial fanfare on my dime as possible, and having someone spout platitudes about humanity along with the platitudes about God coming from the theists is in tension with that.

  • Claudia

    Funny thing about research…I was all set to say that protests were warranted but useless given that DCs demographics would ensure that the voices of the nonreligious wouldn’t count, but then I find out that almost a quarter of the population cannot be put into a known religious category. Now, to be fair this includes everyone not on the list of 188 religious groups in the study, which means there have to be some religious people in there, but it’s still a pretty high number.

    So instead I’ll revise my comment to hoping that the DC skeptics can mobilize DCs nonreligious population and make them realize that rights that aren’t fought for are lost.

  • DPSisler

    As a DC resident, I have responded. Here is what I wrote:

    Subject: “Taxation without Representation”

    Dear Mayor-Elect Gray,

    This action by you offends me. DC has consistently railed against “Taxation without Representation”. In fact, this motto is on my DC license plate. In front of the Mayor’s office is the amount of taxes that DC residents have paid without representation. Is “Taxation without Representation” just a cheap PR stunt by DC politicos? Does DC stand by the philosophy inherent in this statement? The answer is “obviously not” with non-theists being excluded from your “One City … Praying Together”.

    Therefore, I demand that I be exempted from paying anymore DC taxes until my views are “represented”. I believe that “Taxation without Representation” is more than a PR stunt. Do you?

    As a resident of the D.C. metro area and an ally to all of those who struggle for equal representation in government and for equal rights in law, please include a secular representative in the “One City … Praying Together” ecumenical prayer service. There is a large, vibrant community of secular D.C. residents that is being shut out without representation at this event. It makes us stronger as a city—and as a nation—when we recognize those with different views and faiths than our own and welcome them.

    Please help make the nontheistic community more accepted in the D.C. metro by welcoming a member into your inaugural prayer service.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000586562927 Donna Hamel (muggle)

    I’m with DA as far as why are they even wanting to be included in it? Protesting this illegal breach of church and state should have been their only priority in the first freaking place. They should have only planned a protest and perhaps have sued to stop it. Now the protest is just going to look pathetic and petty. What the fuck were they thinking?

    I really don’t get why when there’s some obvious church-state violation the very people who should be objecting strenuously because they are the ones specifically excluded are begging to eat the crumbs at the table.

    Just throw all your fellow nontheists under a bus, why don’t you? I’m disgusted. More at the mayor but secondarily at them too.

  • talynkotr

    “They should have only planned a protest and perhaps have sued to stop it.”

    On what grounds???

    They HAD to petition for inclusion in order to prove exclusion. Otherwise they don’t have a case, at least not as strong of a case.

  • John Small Berries

    Good to see the Christian tradition of ignoring Jesus is still going strong.

  • Nerdette

    That’s rather ballsy of him – DC and area has a *huge* secular community. He obviously hasn’t looked up his local religious demographics, or he has, and he didn’t think it through.

  • Jonas

    Do we know who they did have space for on the ticket? Will the prayer service be more Christian for example, than Jewish? or will it really be a generic interfaith service that all theistic (or monotheistic) believers could get behind?

    Myself, I have a problem with Prayer services ath these events, because it seems those leading the Prayer command the masses to believe or act a certain way, as it’s their duty to the Faith.
    — These should be personal matters, as is one’s need to ask God, or not ask God for aid.

    Examples: At Obama’s inauguration, inviting Rick Warren, and Gene Robinson sent two completely contradictory messages to the GLBT community.

    Jews have a practice of Mitzvah – Which means performing a good, or praiseworthy deed. That’s fine, but if my personal religion involved faith alone, I wouldn’t want to be ordered to perform a mitzvah, by a public official.

  • Jonas

    @ John Small Berries: “Good to see the Christian tradition of ignoring Jesus is still going strong.”

    What?? “They Have their reward” (Matt 6:5)
    Right — He’s already elected so ??

    :) :)

  • Frank

    I’m also with DA on this one. I don’t want a humanist celebrant to be included in prayer services, and I’m a bit offended that an organization which claims to represent my community is asking for that. The SCA has done two things here that violate what they are supposed to be about:
    1. They sided with religious humanism over secular humanism. The ethical culturists and humanistic jews and some of the AHA people may consider themselves religious, but most of the people in this movement don’t. Humanist celebrants do not speak for us and it is dishonest for them to claim to do so. The message SCA is sending with this protest is that it is ok to have a prayer service so long as it includes a humanist celebrant, and that message is a betrayal of this movement.
    2. They are getting involved in local politics, and that isn’t their purpose. They exist to lobby the FEDERAL government, not the DC government. They shouldn’t have involved themselves in this issue at all.

  • Erp

    Well at 8am on a Sunday (doors open at 7) I doubt they are going to get too many people anyway.

    What I wonder is whether they are going to have Muslims speaking and from which groups. What about Mormon or Pagan or Bahai’i or Zoroastrian (there is an active community in D.C.) or Unitarian Universalist or Buddhist or Hindu.

  • Angel

    DPSisler – Well stated!

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    I’m with DA. Why would non-believers want to be part of an event called ‘One City … Praying Together.’ Do non-believers pray now?

    Shall we start petitioning to attend interfaith events – as if non-faith is another faith? If faith were a game, non-belief would be not wanting to have anything to do with that game. It would not be about stopping game-lovers from watching the game – it would be staying out of it voluntarily.

    The religious nature of these ceremonies inherently excludes us. We’re not invited for the same reason non-veterans are not invited to veterans’ parties.

    You could sue to crash someone else’s party, but I say suck it up and move on with your life.

  • Kaye

    I really like that sign “Atheists Left Out in the Cold” But I would amend it to:

    “Atheists Left Out in the Cold, WHERE THEY SHOULD BE!”

  • DA

    talynkotr, if the event itself is illegitemite (which it is) it makes no sense to petition for inclusion anyway. That’s my whole point.

    Also, atheists are NOT a religion. So wanting to be represented amongst them is moronic, kind of like wanting the Birmingham Association of People Who Hate Basketball to have a stronger presence in the Final Four.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000586562927 Donna Hamel (muggle)

    I’m no lawyer so I don’t know if they have grounds to sue for any reason or not but I would think there would be some kind of legal action that could be taken rather than asking to aid and abet the violation. But note I said they should have just planned a protest to begin with.

  • Anonymous

    Politics Daily
    http://www.politicsdaily.com/2010/12/30/atheists-demand-equal-time-at-new-d-c-mayors-prayer-service/

    Great comment here:

    The fact is, the prayer service has nothing to do with spiritualism. It’s all very political. It’s a way to assert cultural dominance. To put the rest of the country on notice that “the christian team” is in charge. In reality, reigion is a private matter between you and what you believe is your maker. Keep it behind closed doors and in your houses of worship. The public forum should be devoid of any references to religious belief. Have respect for others.