Christian Mayor Will Deliver Welcoming Message at Pennsylvania Atheist Conference

The Pennsylvania State Atheist/Humanist Conference takes place in Harrisburg next weekend and organizers have announce that Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson will give the welcoming remarks.

Mayor Linda Thompson

That’s quite a surprising twist…

In 2010, the American Humanist Association sent a letter to Thompson’s office requesting that she stop saying Christian prayers before her staff meetings

… as mayor of the city and chief executive officer of city government, you are the person all other employees must respect and, ultimately, please. By suggesting that you feel it is important to start meetings with a group prayer, you are sending a message of exclusion to any employees who do not participate in that endeavor with you. Such employees no doubt would be concerned about being seen as outsiders, thereby causing them to worry about their status with you.

In the summer of 2011, amid a severe financial crisis, Thompson decided to embark on a three-day “fast and prayer” campaign. Members of the Pennsylvania Nonbelievers and American Atheists’ Dave Silverman even protested outside her office after that:

(Image credit: Shannon Fields)

In case you were curious, the campaign didn’t work:

Ok, back to the present.

Why would Thompson speak to a gathering of atheists?

Simple.

She was invited, said Brian Fields, president of the PA Nonbelievers, in an email to me:

It’s standard for the mayor of a city to be invited to conferences and other events. We decided that it would be entirely appropriate to invite her, for many reasons. First, she is the mayor. Second, if she did accept, it would signify that the atheist community was being treated like everyone else — Which is a good thing. Third, perhaps we will have the opportunity to share our point of view. Fourth, the press doesn’t hurt.

We didn’t expect her to accept, but it’s because of her history most of all that we are glad she did. It’s one thing to get people who agree with you, quite another to be recognized by those who don’t.

It is our understanding that she intends to give a standard mayoral greeting. We hope she sticks around when she is done.

It’s likely she’ll just welcome atheists to her town and leave, but it’d be fascinating if she addressed her own faith while giving her talk. It’s like Mitt Romney speaking to the NAACP — you give him some credit for showing up but you don’t really expect the audience to take him very seriously.

Hopefully, the atheists in the audience will treat the mayor with respect. It’d be bad press for everybody if our crowd booed a Christian just for having the audacity to show up.

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.

  • janiceintoronto

     “It’d be bad press for everybody if our crowd booed a Christian just for having the audacity to show up.”

    Bad press aside, it would be rude.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    What if she opens the event with a Christian prayer?

    • Michael

      Change the words.

    • http://www.facebook.com/fieldsb Brian Fields

       That would be quite rude as well.  And there will be press present.

  • Richard Wigton

     I live just outside Harrisburg Pa and the Mayor is not very well liked and is considered by many to be a loon. I will be at the conference and the idea that Mayor Thompson will be delivering the welcoming address gives me a headache. I truly hope she does just say welcome and then leave. But, knowing her, she will try to say a prayer for the atheists in attendance or she will talk about how important Jesus is in her life.  This whole thing is just a disaster in waiting.

  • brightdrrkness

    Having been in attendance, she delivered her message and then left. She mentioned god a lot, asked us to spend lot’s of money, and then left. The crowd was respectful and applauded her speech even though most in attendance didn’t really like what she had to say.
    Thumbs up for the guests. Very well handled.


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