Antrim Township Supervisors Begin Meeting with Christian Prayer

Last week, I posted about the Greencastle-Antrim School District (in Pennsylvania) and how the school board began its meetings with The Lord’s Prayer.

Ernest Perce V, the Pennsylvania State Director of American Atheists, and Carl Silverman (of the PA Nonbelievers) attended a meeting and documented the prayers firsthand.

Now, there’s a bit of an update.

The atheists attended a meeting of the Antrim Township Board of Supervisors (i.e. the City Council) to raise this issue there. Once again, there’s a prayer in the name of Jesus — and to make matters worse, a student representative from the local high school was supposed to be in attendance for the prayer (she arrived late, but so much for the argument that these kinds of prayers are not forced upon students):

At the beginning of the video, you hear a prayer recited. Silverman and Perce speak during the public comments time. And then you get additional statements arguing in favor of Christian prayer (check out the speaker at the 9:00 mark)… all to enthusiastic applause.

The Herald-Mail‎, a local paper, quoted some of the people advocating for prayers:

Greencastle resident Duane Kinzer supported the right to pray at township meetings.

“We are a God-fearing township and community,” Kinzer said.

Greencastle business owner John Helfrick stood in support of the supervisors beginning its meetings with prayer.

“We need to pray to our God mightily in these days,” Helfrick said to a spirited round of applause from the audience.

“There is one God and He is the God that we should be serving,” said Carolyn Snyder of Greencastle.

And, not surprisingly, at the end of the video, the chairman of the board, Fred Young III, told the crowd that as long as he is in his position, the prayers will continue.

Who needs the Constitution anyway, right?

The atheists aren’t going to stop fighting this battle. It’d be nice if there were others at these meetings to support them, but they’ll go at it by themselves if they have to. Later tonight, Silverman and Perce will attend a joint meeting of the Township and School Board to see what occurs there. Updates are forthcoming.

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.

  • ColophonianMongo
  • Glasofruix

    Fear & servitude, yay for Jebus!

  • Levon Mkrtchyan

     Thank you Hemant for keeping track of all of this for us, we need to remain aware of the good work being done by more active atheists.

    I completely agree with Hemant that we need to fight for the church and state starting at the lowest level.  Keep fighting these kinds of cases!

  • Jim Royal

    With great respect to the people fighting against excessive religiosity in their home towns… I cannot escape the feeling that this is attacking the problem from the wrong end.

    Extreme religiosity is fed by personal insecurity;  in stressful times, people feel protected by their religions. And the USA has gone from one stressor to another in the last 15 years without a break. 

    In response to these stresses, people vote for policies that protect their religions, and against policies that threaten their religions. Some policies, such as universal health care, would indeed eliminate sources of stress in people’s lives, but many religious people feel that social safety nets undermine the charity of their churches, thereby threatening the one thing that they cling to for security.

    So, we have a feedback loop: The religious feel insecure, and cling to their religions for comfort; and in turn, they create a social climate that allows the things that make them feel insecure to continue.

    If the above is true, then stopping prayer in town council meetings is not even on topic. Break the feedback loop I described, and the prayer issue takes care of itself over time.

  • Foster

    The Marsh v. Chambers case (1982), which  Mr. Silverman incorrectly cites in his objections above did not establish anything of the sort that he claims it did.  Rather, justifying prayer in Congress and other lower public bodies as a “tolerable acknowledgement of beliefs widely held among the people of this country,” Burger made plenty of room for mention of any deity the people desire.  The safeguards in the Constitution were not designed to suppress free speech and expression, but to protect people from substantive injustices like the loss of income and property.  Here is a summary of the case I found:

    In a 6-to-3 decision, the Court upheld the chaplaincy practice. In his opinion for the Court, Chief Justice Warren Burger abandoned the three-part test of Lemon v. Kurtzman, which had been the touchstone for cases involving the Establishment Clause. In its place, Burger rested the Court’s opinion on historical custom. Prayers by tax-supported legislative chaplains could be traced to the First Continental Congress and to the First Congress that framed the Bill of Rights. As a consequence, the chaplaincy practice had become “part of the fabric of our society.” In such circumstances, an invocation for Divine guidance is not an establishment of religion. “It is,” wrote Burger, “simply a tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people of this country.”

    There may be other cases that support these atheists’ case, but the one they cited certainly does not.  Quite the opposite.

  • Octoberfurst

     I just rolled my eyes listening to the Christians talk. They are a ‘God-fearing” community and  they must stand up for their right to pray, blahh, blahh, blahh. Yeah screw the Constitution and anyone who ISN’T Christian!  No need to even TRY to be inclusive! They’re going to pray to the baby Jesus by golly whether you like it or not!  Bunch of arrogant assholes! So smug. So condescending.  This is why we must fight against the Christian Taliban. Because if we don’t they will try to force their beliefs on all of us.    

  • Sindigo

    An interesting post and one that I have some sympathy with. Any ideas how we should go about breaking said feedback loop?

  • Nazani14

    So what is your plan for “breaking the loop?”   We can’t stop stressors, and we can’t help each and every individual deal with their insecurities.  

  • Nazani14

    Surely there have been enough court cases about public prayer by now for people to understand that this behavior can cost them money.  I don’t mind if people want to be “martyrs” for their beliefs, but I mind if they waste the tax dollars of other citizens, Christian and non-Christian alike. 

  • Alan

    The case you state does in fact support the athiestis’ case, in that the ruling allows prayer however, the inference is that the “prayer” be had in the name no single diety.  (i.e. in Jesus’ name).  The cause of issue with this council is it’s use of specific prayer, not the prayer itself.

  • The Other Weirdo

     Pretty Biblical, though. Jesus loves you, but only if you obey him unconditionally.

  • Jim Royal

    That’s a hard question to answer because the solutions are embedded in a knot of political and cultural issues in the USA. 

    In addition to the religious right, there is a popular form of libertarianism (as espoused by atheists such as Penn Gillette) that also stands in the way of “big government” social policies on principle. 

    Political campaign financing rules, which allow unlimited funds to come from businesses, prevent politicians from passing any laws that might help individuals at the expense of corporations.

    The prime cause of personal financial insecurity in the past few years was the collapse of the housing bubble, and there has been little effort to ensure that it will never happen again, nor have any of the guilty parties paid any price for their malfeasance.

    I believe that European countries (and my home country, Canada) have become gradually less and less religious over the last several decades at least in part because of social safety nets that insulated people from the worst of economic fluctuations.

    So I would make two recommendations to atheists who want to be politically active:

    First, I believe that atheists should support robust social safety nets, and sane tax policies to fund such institutions. Taking away people’s pain will help loosen their death grip on their religions.

    Second, and this may come out of left field: Support gay marriage and equal rights for gays. I have noted recent surveys that say that the level of religiosity among young people in the USA has started to drop, and I think there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that gay rights may be the political issue driving it. 

    Here in Montreal, there is a Catholic church on almost every street corner, and they are all empty. Many churches are being boarded up for lack of maintenance funds. Others are being converted into community centers and condos. The two political issues that drove people from the church were: a) education, and b) birth control.

    I submit that the issues that might drive people in the USA from their churches are social safety nets and gay rights.

  • Xeon2000

    With the popularity of religious exemptions for various laws, they should add a “non-religious exemption”. Atheists could be cut a tax break to make up for all the Christians wasting tax money this way, as well as freeing them from indirectly funding churches via their tax free status.

  • rlrose63

    Listening to the Christians make their statements makes me sick to my stomach.  Constitution be damned.  Thank goodness he appreciates their “opinion” (their request that he follow the Constitution).  Asshats.

  • John Purcell

     I’ve always wondered about the phrase “god fearing”. It just doesn’t seem like it describes a healthy relationship between god and his subjects. You know, the ones he loves so much…

  • Rovin’ Rockhound

     Most of us agree with you, Jim, and fully support the strengthening of social safety nets. That does not mean that we should not fight the (seemingly) small fights, however. Fighting against prayer at city council meetings is, fundamentally, fighting for equal rights, and in the long term, that equality should lead to an improvement of social policies.

    Then again, I’m a latin american expat living in the US, and I’m desperately trying to find ways to move to a more evolved country. I’m not sure I want my potential kids to grow up here.

  • Blacksheep

    The Bible is pretty clear that Jesus loves everyone regardless of their obedience. That’s the whole point of salvation. Lots of Bible stories are about how non-obedient his followers were, and it never diminishes His love for them. Obedience often follows faith, but “Jesus loves you” stands on its own.

  • Blacksheep

    Jim, I would like to interject that as a Christian, I do not “Feel insecure and cling to my religion for comfort” but rather embrace my faith because I believe that it’s true. I often pray out of thankfulness when things are going well. And of course it can be a comfort, but you spin it by adding the word “Cling” – I don’t stay healthy by “clinging” to healthy food, I stay healthy by simply eating healthy food. 
    For a Christian, eliminating stresses would result in just as much desire to pray. (To your point, I admit it might weed out people who only pray when the going gets tough)

  • Glasofruix

    What? No hell involved?

  • Blacksheep

    The Other Weirdo said , “Jesus loves you, but only if you obey him unconditionally.”

    That’s not correct, since Jesus loves us no matter what, and saves us not based on unconditional obedience but rather through faith, even as little as a “mustard seed.”

  • Glasofruix

    So when jebus says to abandon your family to follow him and only him, he doesn’t require unconditionnal obedience?

  • Blacksheep

    By using the term “Jebus” you clearly don’t want a respectful answer. Sorry.

  • Glasofruix

    And why should i respect an outdated belief, some stupid superstition? Especially when the little book of awful fairytales states clearly that absolute and blind obedience is required in order to be admitted to the vip club in the clouds.

  • Glasofruix

    Don’t forget the master slave relationship.

  • kenneth

    The only real solution is demographic shift. Sometime by mid-century or maybe sooner, Christians will no longer be a majority in this country, and there will be no majority religion. At that point, we’ll all either have to learn to get down with our country’s promise of pluralism, or destroy each other. 

  • Jim Royal

    Blacksheep, I did qualify my characterization as “extreme religiosity.”

    Nonetheless, I think it is likely that your description of religious devotion among the general population (pray when times are good, pray when times are bad) may apply largely to US culture alone. It doesn’t seem to be true elsewhere in the industrialized world.

    I’d like to direct you to an article in the journal Evolutionary Psychology titled “The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity upon Dysfunctional Psychosociological Conditions” by Gregory Paul.

    “The historically unprecedented socioeconomic security that results from low levels of progressive government policies appear to suppress popular religiosity and creationist opinion, conservative religious ideology apparently contributes to societal dysfunction, and religious prosociality and charity are less effective at improving societal conditions than are secular government programs. The antagonistic relationship between better socioeconomic conditions and intense popular faith may prevent the existence of nations that combine the two factors. The nonuniversality of strong religious devotion, and the ease with which large populations abandon serious theism when conditions are sufficiently benign, refute hypotheses that religious belief and practice are the normal, deeply set human mental state, whether they are superficial or natural in nature. Instead popular religion is usually a superficial and flexible psychological mechanism for coping with the high levels of stress and anxiety produced by sufficiently dysfunctional social and especially economic environments.”

  • Glasofruix

    I often pray out of thankfulness when things are going well.

    I hereby thank you lord for allowing the lowly me to live another day without you pouring your anger onto my head?

  • Blacksheep

    I respect your opinion – but please know that your take on the Christian faith is not shared by most Christians. 

    His own disciples had doubts about who he was. It was never the quality of faith that transformed, it’s the object of faith – Jesus.”Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”

  • Blacksheep

    That’s pretty maudlin Glasofruix!

  • Blacksheep

    You may be right – it may mainly be a US cultural thing. It’s also a complicated way of saying “people leave their faith when life gets easier” -which I suppose is often true. 

    I don’t think it puts belief in a bad light as much as points out that maybe not as many people are actually believers as everybody thought.

    A related topic that fascinates me when I travel to third world countries is why do people in extreme poverty (I’ve observed this among Christians in latin America and Africa as well as Hindus in India) seem genuinely happier than people living in relative comfort? The difference is palpable – and it does not seem put on, or an act of any kind. 
    It seems as if there’s more to the picture than how dysfunctional ones economic environment is.

  • Blacksheep

    I’m a Christian, and I didn’t like the way they sounded either.

  • Glasofruix

    That just means that he was a lazy ass freeloader…

  • Glasofruix

    You pray when good things happen, you also pray when bad things happen. I just wonder how you manage to get something done with all that useless talking to yourself.

  • Jim Royal

    Blacksheep, I think you’ve put your finger on something. I think an important aspect of personal insecurity is not just social dysfunction, but also the degree of inequality in the system. 

    While a modest amount of inequality can be a motivator for people, vast chasms between the living standards of people who exist side-by-side can be a source of resentment and cultural breakdown. US culture had always held the promise that, if you work hard, you can transcend your social and economic class. But I think you’ll agree that promise is increasingly being seen as hollow.

    I, too, have travelled to India a few times, and I’ve seen the huge difference in living standards between the emerging middle class and the vast majority of the population. And India certainly has its own disfunctions. Yet India also has a history of a rigid caste system, and although there are officially no more Dalits, I suspect the cultural attitudes remain, inhibiting people’s expectations for social mobility.

    “…maybe not as many people are actually believers as everybody thought.”

    I’ve long suspected this. And that alone points to how inappropriate enforced prayer at public events really is. Here in Canada, people pretty much leave each other alone to do their own thing. No one says that practicing a religion is inherently a bad thing, but we also tend to consider platitudes such as “God bless Canada” to be in extremely bad taste.

  • Foster

    The “inference?”  Mr. Silverman did not leave anything to inference. He said the following in the video above.  “You cannot have sectarian prayers that name specific deities.  This was decided by Marsh v. Chambers.”  This was *not* decided by Marsh v. Chambers.  They did not address the issue of “sectarian prayer” at all.  I repeat, Mr. Silverman misused the case in saying that it banned sectarian prayer from public assembly.  Read the case, Alan:  the prayers in question in that case were distinctly Judeo-Christian, and they were upheld despite their sectarian nature.     

  • newavocation

    So Xians are having trouble getting people into their churches on Sundays, so they have to do their promoting at public meetings. Heck why don’t they just bring their collection plates with them too.

  • Octoberfurst

     That’s all well and good Blacksheep but my problem is that Christians like yourself may say you find such things objectionable too but you do nothing about it. It’s the same with Christians who say they abhor haters like those from Westboro Baptist Church. But do they come out and counter-demonstrate when they arrive in town? Not in any meaningful numbers. Most of the counter-demonstrators are gay or secular people.

  • Sindigo

    Sane, rational, well thought out. You know this is the Internet, right?

    Seriously though, I couldn’t agree with you more.  I’m particularly interested in your second point. I haven’t heard that connection made before. Interesting.

  • Blacksheep

    That’s true, I don’t proactively do anything about it, other than the way I conduct myself and the people close to me who I can influence. Between work, family, friends, and life in general i definitely do not have time to protest things that bug me. Maybe I should!

    As far as Westboro goes, i would never invest time protesting them. There’s a level of crazy that works as its own protest.

  • Shel

    Who needs the constitution anyway right?  I mean that is what the blogger has stated.  Which is it do you want the constitution or not?