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.


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