Kansas City Atheists Kicked Out of St. Patrick’s Day Parade out of ‘Respect for… St. Patrick’

The Kansas City St. Patrick’s Day parade takes place this Sunday and many local organizations will be marching in it… but not the atheists.

The Kansas City Atheist Coalition requested a slot in the parade but, according to a statement given to KMBC-TV, they were rejected by the organizers because their presence would have been disrespectful to St. Patrick:

“Kansas City’s parade celebrates the Feast Day of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, and the Christian teachings and beliefs that he lived and suffered forThe Atheist Coalition’s published mission is to advance godlessness through activism, and its stated intent regarding the 2013 parade was to carry banners with phrases such as “positively godless” and “morals without mythology.” It was with respect for the legacy of St. Patrick that the parade committee turned down the Atheist Coalition’s application to participate in this year’s procession.

Actually, the KCAC’s stated mission is “to advance atheism through activism, philanthropy, education and the cultivation of a positive secular community.” Which I know because I actually read their website instead of stopping to take things out of context. Their goal isn’t to convert everyone to atheism; it’s to educate everyone about atheism. It’s not anti-Catholic any more than a local Muslim or Jewish group would be.

This rejection is happening, despite the fact that parade events (like the Gaelic Mass) are listed as “open to all, Irish or not, Catholic or not.”

Just to be clear, this isn’t illegal discrimination. This is a privately-run parade and the organizers have every right to ban groups they don’t like. But to suggest that atheists would have somehow taken away from the celebration of Irish heritage — something I’m sure drunken revelers nationwide would never, ever, ever do — is quite a stretch.

I spoke with KCAC Vice President Josh Hyde tonight and he told me they were first rejected by parade organizers on February 22nd. An email exchange ensued over the next several days but led nowhere. The atheists’ plan was to don green shirts, hold up banner with atheist-y messages (like the ones in the images below) just like they’ve done at other events, and promote their group. It’s disappointing, he added, that they won’t get a chance to do that now.

Incidentally, KCAC leaders put out a press release of their own (PDF) responding to the organizers:

“There have been and are multiple organizations participating in the parade who do not explicitly line up with Catholic beliefs — the International House of Prayer and K-Love Radio being prime examples in the past,” said Sarah Hargreaves, president of the Kansas City Atheist Coalition. “The fact that religious alignment with Catholicism has not been a criteria in the past seems discordant with this sudden new requirement.”

Despite the rejection, members of KCAC will still be present at the parade, albeit not marching in it. They’ll set up shop at a corner near the parade route and answer questions from passersby:

Attitudes like [that of the parade organizers] speak directly to the need for more “Ask an Atheist” events, where we are able to destigmatize the word “atheist” and show our community that we are happy, friendly, compassionate individuals who don’t believe in any gods, but do believe in people!

They’re handling this beautifully. There’s no animosity toward the organizers from the atheists. They’re just frustrated they can’t be part of the fun.

They come out looking fantastic while the parade sponsors end up looking like jerks for kicking out a perfectly respectable, reasonable group.

(Thanks to @CopyEditGirl for the link!)

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.

  • OCRazor

    They should hold their own parade!

  • Rain

    Maybe the Pope issued a papal bull and excommunicated them. Thus they could not be present.

  • http://twitter.com/maxbingman1 Max Bingman

    Yeah, the correct way to respect Saint Patrick is to go binge drinking while wearing green.

  • Miss_Beara

    Nothing says St. Patrick like beginning your drinking at 9 in the morning, bar hopping, getting increasingly drunk throughout the day and topping it off with vomiting, urinating and defecating in alleys and front lawns. This has happened in Chicago. Fines are going as high as 1000 bucks, not sure if that will help with the disgusting display during the parade.

  • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

    Given what St. Patrick did, I’d say that booting the non-believers is in perfect line with the idiocy of this holiday.

  • DoctorDJ

    I woulda thunk that St Paddy would have been too busy slaying dragons and drinking green beer to care who marched in his parade.

  • Edmond

    I’m not sure I see a real problem with this. This parade is to celebrate SAINT Patrick, a word whose very definition means that they’re celebrating the idea that God set this Patrick fellow up on the extra special bleachers in Heaven, and atheists, by definition, say that all this is false. I don’t know anything about this International House of Prayer, or K-Love Radio, or whatever other groups don’t “explicitly line up with Catholic beliefs”, but I doubt that they put much effort into contesting the very concept of sainthood. As a gay man, I’m not sure I’d be very welcoming to the idea of a gay conversion-therapy group marching in a pride parade, promoting their contrarian position.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    You beat me to my reply. I was going to say that I guess the American tradition of wearing green and getting drunk off your ass is perfectly ok with a man that lived in the 4th to 5th centuries. I think he’d be wondering why we don’t swear allegiance to the church of rome.

  • Leonidas

    Wait a minute… the beer has to be green too as to properly respect St. Patrick!

  • Daniel_JM

    It must be different where you live, but here in the US St Patrick’s Day has about as much to do with celebrating the Catholic saint as Valentine’s Day is about promoting St Valentine or the month August has to do with promoting Augustus Caesar.

  • Darrel Ray

    Thanks Hemant for helping us let people know about this. It won’t slow us down, it only makes us more determined to let people know we exist in Kansas City.

  • Bad_homonym

    What’s a quarter mile long and has 1000 a-holes? St Patricks day parade!!!

  • C Peterson

    It’s a secular holiday. I’d guess that not one in a hundred people participating in this parade could provide any information at all about St Patrick- maybe “he did something with snakes” and “he’s an Irish hero”. As they march around and drink their beer, they sure aren’t celebrating any saint. Might as well exclude atheists from celebrating St Valentine’s Day or Halloween, both related to saints and now almost entirely secular.

  • Keulan

    Oh come on, nobody celebrates the Catholic saint on St. Patrick’s Day. It’s just another excuse to party and get hammered. The parade organizers are full of it.

  • LesterBallard

    Yeah, I bet he was all about the drunken, violent assholes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robert-J-Williamson/642037587 Robert J. Williamson

    The highest ranking member of the Catholic Church in the UK and the only one that could have voted on the new pope won’t be voting as he is fighting abuse charges. Personally I would not want to march with such people. However it is a shame that a day that is mean to celebrate Irish history is being turned into a day for Catholics.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    according to a statement given to KMBC-TV, they were rejected by the organizers because their presence would have been disrespectful to St. Patrick

    KMBC-TV tried to contact St. Patrick for comment, but he would not return any of their phone calls.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

    Supplanting the traditional religion followed by the majority *is* the legacy of St Patrick.

  • Tainda

    And as a fellow Kansas Citian I know they think we are a myth just like leprechauns lol

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Just to be clear, this isn’t illegal discrimination. This is a
    privately-run parade and the organizers have every right to ban groups
    they don’t like

    Unless some government resources are going towards enabling this private parade. I.e. the same argument used against the Boy Scouts.

  • Jennifer

    I don’t even know who St. Patrick is. As a kid, I was always told St. Patrick’s day was a day to wear green, and if you didn’t you got pinched. As an adult, everyone I know who celebrates the holiday does so by wearing green and drinking lots of booze. So how is it that this is such a “sacred” holiday, and yet most people don’t even know who St. Patrick was, and don’t really care either? Seems to me like most religious holidays, it has a secular component and is, to most people, nothing more than an excuse to party.

    More importantly, there is a HUGE difference between KCAC (of which I am a member) and anti-gay groups like the one you described. KCAC’s goals aren’t “we think you are all wrong and you should be atheist and we can fix you”. The goal is to raise awareness about atheists, and the fact that just because we don’t share a belief in gods, doesn’t mean we are with out morals and that we desire to make positive contributions to our community.

  • baal

    Typically parades in the US are set up by organizers who then petition the local unit of government for a permit (since they will be disrupting traffic). I haven’t seen case law or statutes that suggest parades are vendors of general accommodation (like say a shoe store or massage parlor). This particular parade is also not being set up the city. If it were, then there might be a case.
    The Boy Scouts are legally discriminating against gays and atheists right now. They run into legal trouble when a city has a ‘any group must not discriminate when using this venue’ rules or when government funds are used to sponsor the local troup (again, no discrimination by gov actors).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=509270298 Kristen Adkins

    I live close to KC and this doesn’t surprise me at all! My shitty little town is even worse!

  • eric

    I believe this IHOP is charismatic or protestant. So they would, in fact, reject the notion that some individual humans have special theological status. To protestants and charismatics, St. Pat was just an historically important missionary the RCC decided to imbue with a title, with no extra-special powers to intervene in the lives of humans.
    …exactly as the atheists believe.

  • Jeff

    Gotta respect the religious sentiments of a long-dead foreigner!

  • John (not McCain)

    Judging by the festivities, it must be the case that once a year St. Patrick rises from the grave and roams the earth looking for sober people to kill. Although I don’t believe that’s true, best not to take a chance.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Eberhard/1619331477 John Eberhard

    Let’s don’t get too hasty with “Just to be clear, this isn’t illegal discrimination. This is a
    privately-run parade and the organizers have every right to ban groups
    they don’t like.” It is the 3rd largest St. Patrick’s parade in the country, which gives an idea of the scale of public services it takes to coordinate it. This is a public event, although not funded by tax payer money, it does cost the city plenty in security and other public services……..and we are subsidizing those services while being banned from benefiting from them in this instance. Doesn’t sound quite kosher to me.

  • Guest

    Time to raise a BIG FAT FUSS with the city. St. Patricks Day is also a cultural event. And, there’s absolutely no reason why KC atheists can’t join in the fun, on the day, Can you get your own permit, just like this group for the day? Then you could lead the parade, by starting yours earlier or take in the rear – both of them serious pole positions in any parade. If the city is granting them permission, they have to grant it to you too. We had a slightly similar issue here on our own city of Santa Cruz years ago over holiday displays. You know what ended up happening here in the end, is the city shut the whole thing down. They didn’t want to to deal with the legal circus it entailed and disallowed ALL displays. This private group may be doing themselves more harm than good. Good luck to KC atheists with this fight. It may be too late to participate in the parade this year, but there’s always next year – and then, you could invite EVERYBODY to your parade.

  • David McNerney

    I’ve never been to a St Patrick’s Day parade in the US, but I imagine they are they exact opposite of what a St Patrick’s Day parade is here in Ireland.

    In Ireland the parades are inclusive and culturally diverse. In Dublin it is hard to tell the difference between the St Patrick Day Parade and the Gay Pride Parade. And I can tell you who is getting less and less of a look in: the Catholic Church.

    There might people in the US who think they are Irish because they are like to those “back home” with their conservative Catholic values – wake up muppets, look at the polls coming out of Ireland, your Catholic bigoted utopia is dead.

    You are nothing like us.

    Those Kansas City Atheists should come to Ireland – they’d be welcome to march here. Sure isn’t Eamon Gilmore an atheist.

  • C Peterson

    Saints are like that.

  • Unsaint Patrick

    Given how we’ve gone on with the “holiday tree” and “Spring Bunny” terms here in America lately, I wouldn’t be surprised what Kansas City is doing here will lead to another Catholic holiday being renamed, perhaps this one will become “Irish Heritage Day”?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    and roams the earth looking for sober people to kill.

    He hasn’t found me yet.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Sure’n it’s all about St. Patrick. Won’t somebody think of the leprechauns?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Maybe it’s time to consider an alternative:
    St. Urho’s Day is March 16
    Get a headstart on your drinking.

  • Blacksheep

    Marching in a St Patrick’s Day parade with banners that read “Positively Godless” or “Morals without Mythology” is obnoxious, simple as that. They are obvious digs (albeit playful) at the belief of probably 99% of the people enjoying the day. And I believe that the group knows that, and that they sort of enjoy getting a rise out of people. There’s a time and a place for complaining, protesting, and being contrarian – but why would anyone want that at their parade? Most groups in parades simply carry a sign that states the name of their organization, I’ve yet to see one that criticizes someone else.

  • blasphemous_kansan

    Stay strong fellow heartlanders!!!

    Ad astra per aspera!!

  • blasphemous_kansan

    >>”They are obvious digs (albeit playful) at the belief of probably 99% of the people enjoying the day.”

    Oh yeah, when I see the throng that gets the most out of celebrating St. Paddy’s day in America the first thing on my mind is “obviously this is a god-fearing bunch of people.” Followed by “Oops I stepped in green puke”.

    >>” There’s a time and a place for complaining, protesting, and being contrarian”

    Yeah, like a military funeral, maybe?

    >>”but why would anyone want that at their parade?”

    Nobody wants that at their parade, but I failed to see any ‘protesting’, ‘complaining’, or ‘being contrarian’ going on in these signs. These are people who are asserting their existence. It’s revealing that you clutch your pearls and take such offense. Would you be similarly riled up by a group that carried a sign that said “healthy without meat”, or do non-believers get special treatment. Oh, right! It’s because St. Paddy’s is such a holy day.

    >>” Most groups in parades simply carry a sign that states the name of their organization, I’ve yet to see one that criticizes someone else.”

    After reading this article and checking the awesome signs made by KC atheists, I have to agree: I’ve yet to see a sign in a parade that directly criticizes someone else. The atheists signs do not qualify.

  • Picco

    I am glad they do not allow atheists to march. :-)

  • blasphemous_kansan

    >>” I wouldn’t be surprised what Kansas City is doing here will lead to another Catholic holiday being renamed”

    Another holiday? What holidays have been renamed so far? Someone didn’t tell the people who made my calendar, all the holidays look the same to me.

  • Picco

    Or blacks, or Hispanics, or women, or gays!!! I LOVE Jesus in a non-sexual way!!! :-)

  • Pattrsn

    Are you referring to Saturnalia being renamed as Christmas?

  • McAtheist

    Dear Kansas city St. Patrick’s Day Parade,

    I kicked the asses of a million snakes, I’m not afraid of no stinkin’ atheists. You mock my glory and legacy by banning the K.C. Atheists from MY parade. Fix it now!

    Yours truly

    Saint. Patrick (Pat) of ireland

  • McAtheist

    I’m turning myself in to the ‘Grammar Police’, two missed capitals and a random period….oops!

  • McAtheist

    Enough is enough! I have had it with these motherf*****g snakes on this motherf*****g island!

    Saint Samuel of Jackson.

    Sorry, can’t help myself.

  • McAtheist

    The smiley face makes it ok to be a bigot?

  • Josh Hyde

    The committee made up the claim that we were going to use the “positively godless” and “morals without mythology” banners. Sure, we have those, but we mentioned nothing about them in our application, and the committee never bothered to ask us for clarification (this justification did not appear until after we had issued our press release). The truth is: we were going to march with a banner that has our URL and organization name – and that’s it.

  • Randay

    If you look up on Wiki or another source, you will find that scholars are not exactly sure who St. Patrick was and some think he was a conflation of two different preachers at around the same time.

  • threenorns

    wow…. you’re quite the special little snowflake, aren’t you?

  • threenorns

    bollocks. if you persist in seeing offense where none was intended, the problem is you, not what you’re looking at.

    it’s okay that oscar wilde and james joyce would have been barred from the parade?

  • threenorns

    what’s a holiday tree? what’s a spring bunny?

    you americans – always with your wierd customs.

  • threenorns

    soooo…. KC does not have rules about discrimination on city property (which is what the streets are, unless they’ve sold off chunks of them and deeded right of access to the public for use getting from mcdonald’s to starbucks)

  • http://www.facebook.com/marlys.doerflinger Marlys Kummer Doerflinger

    Check meetup to see if there are any groups in your area. They come under many different names. It is nice to find others who thing like you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/marlys.doerflinger Marlys Kummer Doerflinger

    One of the DJ who interviewed Sara suggested it for next year. The deadline for this year is past. We will see what next year brings. Maybe new organizers in the parade.

  • http://www.facebook.com/marlys.doerflinger Marlys Kummer Doerflinger

    The zombie group has been given permission be participants in the parade. Really there is a zombie group, this is what a member posted as a comment. They do hold “zombie walks” several times a year. Everyone is suppose to be welcome at the parade according to the parade organizers literature.

  • r.holmgren

    If you want an example of discrimination, this would be a pretty good one. Hopefully with a year to think about what they’ve done and how inconsistent it is re: other groups allowed in the parade, next year will be different.

  • http://twitter.com/ignatzz Ignatz

    Why would an Atheist Coalition want a spot in a St. Patrick’s Day Parade?

  • http://twitter.com/ignatzz Ignatz

    Saturnalia was on December 17th, and was not renamed Christmas. You MIGHT be thinking of Sol Invictus, but that’s completely different from Saturnalia. The connection of Sol Invictus to Christmas is arguable (and it certainly wasn’t just “renamed”). Unlike Saturnalia, though, you could at least make a case for a connection.

  • http://twitter.com/ignatzz Ignatz

    I doubt they would have given the “Binge Drinkers of America” a slot, either.

  • Pattrsn

    That’s Christianity for you, just one wacky coincidence after another.

  • ZombieQueen

    As the president of the Kansas City Zombie Walk for Hunger, I wanted to clarify our organizations mission. We hold 2 walks a year. Participants register by donating non perishable food items in order to walk. We choose a different local pantry for each walk that will receive the food collected. October’s walk collected 2,600 pounds of food for Guardian Angels Catholic Church pantry in midtown. The fact that we are a food drive is the reason we were approved. I just wanted to clarify what we do.