Atheist Will Deliver Invocation Before Tulsa City Council Meeting

On Thursday night, atheist (and a founder of the Humanist Association of Tulsa) Dan Nerren will deliver the opening invocation at the Tulsa City Council meeting:

Dan Nerren

As far as I know, I’ll be the first to offer a secular invocation,” said Dan Nerren…

He said several atheist groups have been petitioning the council for several years to halt sectarian prayers without success, but the council did agree to allow an invocation by a nontheist group.

“I’ll be invoking the council, not a deity,” he said.

Even though it’d be better if the invocation was stopped altogether, this is a smart move on the part of the city council:

Bill Dusenberry, vice president of the Northeast Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said allowing an atheist to offer the invocation was “a very good move on the part of the council. It shows a willingness to accommodate diversity.”

“It’s better than nothing. The best would be not having prayer at all. It’s just pandering to the tyranny of the majority,” he said.

“Our goal is to have them stop completely the practice of having prayer as a formal part of the public meeting.”

The text of the invocation (PDF) is below. As you can see, it advocates the Humanist perspective without denigrating religion along the way. It’s something everybody ought to be able to agree with, as opposed to the religious invocations that necessarily exclude those who don’t believe in the chosen god.

Let us open our hearts to the welfare of all people in our community by respecting the inherent dignity and worth of each person, and realize our differences of race, religion, and party affiliation are merely superficial. Our common humanity unites us all, and may we recognize that through our interdependence we share a common fate.

In order to achieve the greatest good as citizens of Tulsa, it is important for us to maintain an open mind, and honor and respect the human rights of each other. We should consider the benefit provided by differing perspectives, and be willing to question assumptions that serve only to obstruct our path to progress.

Rather than bowing our heads and closing our eyes in deference, we should open our eyes widely to face the reality that confronts us, without losing sight of our ideals of what we could achieve.

Through the prudent use of reason and compassion we can ensure the success of this great city.

Lastly, we must remember that in the face of adversity we need not look above for answers, but instead recognize the proven potential within ourselves and in each other to overcome any challenges we face.

Thank you.

Congratulations to Dan on the honor; I hope they get the invocation on video :)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Mike D

    No way! I’m almost kinda proud to be a Tulsan right now.

  • Bob M

    What are the odds the next person at the microphone follows that invocation with a prayer?

  • newavocation

    Too bad Dan won’t be able to squeeze in a little bit of Ingersoll’s closing from his essay “God in the Constitution”

    “When the theologian governed the world, it was covered with huts and hovels for the many, palaces and cathedrals for the few. To nearly all the children of men, reading and writing were unknown arts. The poor were clad in rags and skins — they devoured crusts, and gnawed bones. The day of Science dawned, and the luxuries of a century ago are the necessities of to-day. Men in the middle ranks of life have more of the conveniences and elegancies than the princes and kings of the theological times. But above and over all this, is the development of mind. There is more of value in the brain of an average man of to-day — of a master-mechanic, of a chemist, of a naturalist, of an inventor, than there was in the brain of the world four hundred years ago.These blessings did not fall from the skies. These benefits did not drop from the outstretched hands of priests. They were not found in cathedrals or behind altars — neither were they searched for with holy candles. They were not discovered by the closed eyes of prayer, nor did they come in answer to superstitious supplication. They are the children of freedom, the gifts of reason, observation and experience – - and for them all, man is indebted to man.Let us hold fast to the sublime declaration of Lincoln. Let us insist that this, the Republic, is “A government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

  • Santiago

    I think this is a good development. I do like the invocation overall. I would rephrase:

    “Rather than bowing our heads and closing our eyes in deference,”


    “we need not look above
    for answers,” 

    No really necessary.

  • Rwlawoffice

    I think this is great. I applaud the Tulsa City Council.

  • treedweller

    I applaud the decision to allow non-cristian voices. I agree with Santiago, though. Just as I dislike the slap in the face of a religious prayer, I am sure religious believers will dislike this slap. Once, my in-laws asked me to say grace before dinner. Even being shocked by the request and feeling put on the spot, I managed to convey sentiments that would fit in with any prayer, without compromising my principles (no mention of God), and without poking them in the eye by contradicting their beliefs. This speech will make a point, all right, but there is no chance that it will persuade anyone that we deserve to share control of society. It smacks of “someday we will beat you all down and take over.” unfortunately, if that is our approach, I think we are looking at many more years of status quo.

  • Cat’s Staff

    I know what you mean about the slap in the face part…but what’s wrong with that.  It’s our viewpoint, isn’t it?  If they don’t like to hear our views, maybe they would be smart to stop anyone from getting up and praying before a meeting.  Think of it like the FFRF posters that they put at capitols and city halls if there is a nativity scene…  A lot of people don’t like the language they use…the FFRF is saying “Fine, you don’t like it, take away the nativity scene and we’ll gladly take away our poster.”  If you have the chance to speak at a government meeting as an atheist, tell people what atheists believe.  Religious people do that all the time, that’s why we complain.  If you simply get up and give a milquetoast invocation that is designed to keep everyone comfortable, they will all be happy and at the next 100 meetings there will be a pastor giving a fire and brimstone prayer.  Tell them there’s nothing supernatural, we have to take care of ourselves, myths and superstitions are childish (if you add that we should put away childish things, that will really get them uptight).

  • M. Elaine

     This news plus Joe Zamecki’s AHH in Austin plus the news about the Arizona bi and non-theist democrat…wow, what is the south coming to?!

  • Blacksheep

    I agree. Both of those comments are critical. Why is there a need to get a dig in?

  • advancedatheist

    If Ayn Rand said, “There is more of value in the brain of an average man of to-day — of a master-mechanic, of a chemist, of a naturalist, of an inventor, than there was in the brain of the world four hundred years ago,” (and she did write things rather like that), many secular people today might adduce that as further evidence of her depravity and her bad influence on the culture.

    I grew up in Tulsa, but I haven’t lived there since the late 1980′s. It seems to have come a long way from the “rapture ready” town I remember, and it provides further evidence that even in the Bible Belt, atheists live in practically a godless utopia compared with just a couple decades ago, which makes atheists’ whining about issues like religious invocations at public events look unseemly compared with how good we have it overall. 

    The process towards a “Jesus who?” world has already gotten under way in the U.S., so relax and enjoy the ride. 

  • grerp

    It’s still preachy even though there’s no God in it.  Personally, I have no faith in humanity’s ability to bond with others with whom they have no familial or ideological bond.  History suggests that humans form tribes and those tribes splinter 
    over issues of  territory, leadership, or minor theological or ideological issues when they get too large and unwieldy to manage.  Then they fight long, expensive, bloody wars.

    But I can keep my mouth shut and nod and smile when I hear something like this uttered.  I do it all the time.

  • Edmond

    Is there just some reason that I don’t see, that city councils can’t begin their business at the start of the meeting?  What is the purpose of an “invocation”?  What are they trying to “invoke”?  Is city business more successful with an “invocation”?  Has it been shown to be LESS successful if the invocation is skipped?  If invocations are so awesome, why doesn’t EVERYTHING start with one?  Maybe my dentist should read one off before giving me a shot.  Maybe I should hold the elevator every morning, making everyone listen before I press the button for my floor.

    If people want to engage in rituals before they begin working, even secular atheists, I don’t see any reason that they shouldn’t do that on their OWN TIME.  I have never hired anyone, or paid anyone for any job, with the understanding that they would WASTE time with on-the-job spells and hexes.  IMAGINE the amount of time that is wasted every day, in every city across this country, as government officials STOP their business, or delay starting it, so that pretty words could be read instead.

    GET TO WORK!!!

  • Sandy Kokch

    You do realise that they have done this so they can carry on with the praying and bible waving on every other occasion don’t you? And that by doing this our friend here just delivered a crippling blow to any legal case against the council for saying prayers? And that having seen it as a successful strategy then others may just use the same trick?

    So tell me again how this is a win.

  • Cuttlefish

    I saw this story on The Blaze–you can imagine what the comments there were like.

  • J Comeau

    Alternative for consideration:

    “I call this meeting to order. Now, let’s get to work.”

  • treedweller

    You win.

  • Mark Eagleton

    Let us not open our hearts. Suicide is not the answer. Compassion and empathy come from our brains. Let’s use our brains instead. But again, not by cutting them open.