In the Wake of the Boston Bombings, a Petition to Remind Political Leaders That Healing is for Everyone

Atheists were excluded from last week’s “interfaith” service for the victims of the Boston bombing, as if we had no one to mourn or no stake in the matter, and despite the fact that Boston is home to a large non-religious population.

It’s likely that decision was made without ill intent but it’s not because we didn’t make an effort to be included. Governor Deval Patrick and Melissa Rogers (Director of the White House’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships) need to know that we’re not taking this snub lightly.

To that end, Harvard’s Humanist Chaplain Greg Epstein has created a petition so that this sort of exclusion isn’t forgotten the next time such a tragedy occurs:

Despite numerous conversations and requests with your offices, we were denied even a single seat in the Cathedral. This added confusion and pain to the grief of secular Americans in Boston and beyond.

Governor Patrick and Ms. Rogers, our community is neither small nor antireligious. Every week in Boston, Humanists and nontheists gather to serve, to help one another raise good kids, to celebrate life, and to mourn death. We hold leadership positions in major interfaith coalitions. And we have prominent religious allies who are aware that Gallup lists Boston among the top ten least religious metro areas in the United States.

Therefore, we are calling upon you to meet with us in the coming weeks, to hear our stories, and to ensure that, in the future, healing and unity will include everyone. We would also like the opportunity to tell you about our efforts to support the inclusion of members of other groups. For example, we seek to ensure that Muslim, Sikh, Arab, and South Asian communities are not singled out or intimidated. And we stand vigilant against security measures or other moves to curtail civil liberties and cast suspicion around these attacks while our nation considers immigration reform.

I’m proud to be one of the signers of this document and I hope you’ll join me.

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.

  • Jeff See

    You know something: as an atheist, they can keep their interfaith, healing, spiritual, bs laden snooze fest. I do not see, why any one without faith or belief, would A: expect to be there, or expect to be welcomed there or B: even bother to want to be there. The idea that people of importance are sharing time with one, and not the other, is the only real bad to come of it. They represent all, they should do for all. But as far as the actual service goes? Who cares?

    Talking about healing, and other spiritualistic, holistic, voodoo, sounds wishy washy coming from people who supposedly have left such nonsense behind.

  • Baby_Raptor

    I mostly agree with you, but I don’t think healing belongs in your list in your second paragraph. Recovery from pain, be it physical or emotional, isn’t something that requires a deity or other magical source; nor is it something that only theists see a need for.

    Everybody hurts. And everyone has their own ways of coping with those hurts. And that’s essentially what healing is, at least in my experience.

  • Jeff See

    I would suppose that you could separate the word healing from the last group, given your example of definition. Suffering from loss still requires recovery. But when placed among some of these other words, to me, the term suffers from association.

  • Gus Snarp

    Signed. These events are not for me, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t oppose discrimination against Humanists for whom they are important, and an interfaith event to mourn a public tragedy, that includes high level elected leaders acting in an official capacity must be inclusive.

  • chicago dyke

    “healing” is not woo, it’s science. based on sciences of the brain and body. way to stigmatize people with mental trauma! oooh, woo loving wussies who want to “heal.”

    just wait until you lose something or someone you really care about; i look forward to telling you to Man Up, not shed a single tear, and quit feeling sorry for yourself while moving on and never asking a single human being for support or help.

  • chicago dyke

    exactly. discrimination is the problem here. plain, bald discrimination at the very worst of times.

  • Atheist Watch

    The important thing is that Atheists use this to maximum effect to score maximum internet points.

  • Rich Wilson

    American Atheists was requesting email responses. I didn’t think to add this when I signed the petition, but I’ll put it here:

    My name is Richard Wilson. I am a member of a number of atheist and secular organizations, including Freedom From Religion Foundation, Secular Coalition for America, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and American Atheists.

    I am upset by the lack of representation of secular Americans at the official memorial, because it is yet another complete dismissal of millions, purely based on our non-religious views.

    I am a runner (on my first marathon I was a scant 2:27″ shy of qualifying for Boston myself). I am an American. I am a human.

    When someone’s role at the memorial is to represent a specific segment of society- be it gender, ethnic, religious… then omission of any other segment stands out is stark contrast. Let’s move towards representing everyone, not just segments of society.

  • Rich Wilson
  • SeekerLancer

    How many Internet points are you up to? And thank you for watching! It’s good to have fans.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Truthfully…Never saw it. I did really like the song the Goo Goo Dolls wrote for it back then, though.

  • TCC

    The important thing is that Atheists use this to maximum effect to score maximum internet points bring attention to social exclusion of non-believers.


  • Rich Wilson

    I was actually trying to post the song, not the movie. I probably should have picked a different version with a different thumbnail. “Grieve” by Peter Gabriel.

    and it wasn’t really intended at you, just a place to put it in the thread. Point being social creatures grieve. It’s not a religious thing. (so I go and post an image of a movie with an overtly religious theme- oh well. Not my internets day :-)

  • Theist Watch

    Since a Theist cannot hope to win against the internet, there’s really no reason to score them on it.

  • Rick Mueller

    As an atheist – and anti-theist – I do not wish to be included in ceremonies that are termed “interfaith” I don’t demand inclusion and don’t claim discrimination when not invited to these events. Should Chaplain(!) Epstein’s petition have the requested effect, that the next time a public humanist or secularist be asked to participate in an interfaith service, I will not feel represented. I am dismayed that some atheists see this request as an effective way to mainstream atheism.

    The problem with this event is that it was organized by Governor Deval Patrick’s office and attended, in an official capacity by President Obama, Governor Patrick, and Mayor Menino. This ceremony was meant to be the official government-sponsored response to the tragedy. I would not object to any of those government officials attending that religious service in a non-official capacity. Their participation as featured speakers violates the establishment clause. The ceremony (I watched it on YouTube) was pointedly mainstream Christian.

    We as a nation are capable of holding secular events that memorialize the dead, offer support to the wounded and focus the solidarity of the general public on healing and restating our commitment to civic comity. This is what concerned atheists should demand. It is what our constitution requires.

    I would rather see secular and humanist organizations petition their allies in religious traditions to advocate for secular civic events as the norm. I imagine the chaplaincy programs at Harvard – and perhaps now Yale – are models of respect for varying ethical commitments. Outside of those campuses however there are many examples of religious organizations using their protected status to bully citizens into accepting them as moral arbiters and now “healers”. We don’t need to accommodate them.

  • NoGodNoGov

    I don’t know why you assume no ill intent. It is either ill intent or cowardice!

  • Rick Mueller

    please explain what you mean by ill intent. I don’t understand the context.