Humanist Delivers Godless Invocation at Wilmington City Council Meeting

Back in April, Han Hill delivered a secular invocation at a meeting of the Wilmington City Council in North Carolina. (He was labeled a “Humanist Minister,” though “Humanist Celebrant” would have been more accurate.)

It was short and sweet:

As the council gathers here to make laws affecting the people of Wilmington I ask you to lift your heads, to open your eyes and open your hearts.

Our most serious duty is to look to the community we share, the examples we make, and the legacies we leave. That should be our greatest, most courageous and noble intention.

Let this be our most constant success. Thank you.

Hill braced himself for the worst, but he ended up receiving a very different reaction:

From my vantage point I could see every reaction of the elected officials. Heads initially bowed out of habit were slowly raised. I had expected frowns, but found none. I suspect that some had thought I would denounce religion and were now pleasantly surprised. I then noticed that several members greeted my words with nods and smiles — a very unexpected approval.

The lesson I have taken is that positive human values of community, social responsibility, rational thought and action can thrive without any need for Christian or other religious trappings. Humanist thinking can find acceptance even here in the South. This is the truth of our human spirit and we must never stop invoking it.

Hats off to him for taking the opportunity to make our voice heard at the city council meeting. This was especially meaningful since the Wilmington council has been shown to promote Christianity in not-so-subtle ways during invocations in the past, leading the American Humanist Association to consider litigation against them.

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.

  • waybeyondsoccermom


  • JET

    His invocation was very nice and I’m glad he was allowed to make it without others objecting and even with apparent support. In North Carolina, no less!

    But why do governmental legislative bodies always have this need to symbolically invoke anything, religious or not? It’s like they have to continually remind themselves what their jobs are and how they should strive to perform their best. Or continually affirm to their constituents that they will do so. It’s not like their daily affirmations or prayers make them any less likely than the population in general to lie, cheat or steal.

    I have worked many, many jobs at private, public and government institutions, and never once did we start the day with an invocation. It was assumed that we would do what we were hired to do. We came in, got our coffee, and went to work. I could be wrong, but probably not even Chic-fil-a or Hobby Lobby employees start their day with an invocation or prayer reminding themselves to do their jobs.

  • Janet Holmes

    The invocation needs a different name. It means to call on or invoke a spirit or a deity, it is religious by definition.

  • Rich Wilson

    Next step would be to replace ‘heart’ with ‘mind’. Opening up hearts really isn’t a very good thing, and should be reserved for cardiac surgeons and only when absolutely necessary.

  • TBJ

    Really? Not! An Invocation can be very secular because spirit does not necessarily mean something that is supernatural or corporeal. Spirit has many meanings, and though I love my vodka and some would call that a spirit, to me it is not in the least bit a religious experience or out worldly experience. Spirit can also be defined as a person’s intentions. Or his world view. Or the collective sense of a group, like that of a city council. It is often used in legal context like, “In the spirit of the law.” Which is no way implies a theistic meaning. So in the spirit of the city council’s desire to hear an Invocation, the “Hearing” of a Humanist Invocation is equally valid.

  • TBJ

    I think it more about traditionalism than about motivational. Perhaps an Invocation helps by putting emphasis upon the seriousness of their responsibility. Affirmations are akin to recommitting one’s self to a personal agreement or contract. The intention of an invocation is to do the same, to reaffirm one’s commitment, of his responsibility to serve, his community and constituency. Unfortunately Christian influenced city councils (and other organizations) get it all wrong when they insist on making religious invocations, because they are reaffirming corporeal commitments above their communities or customers interests. They are placing theistic values above secular values, which is not their job. Their job is to serve their community, a secular value. Secularism, in one of its roughest definitions, could be defined as “the will of the community” or “the implied sense of the community.” Which, does in fact include religious wills or senses. I often think christians confuse Secularism with Separatism. That their line of reasoning may go like this, “Well its secular and that means there is no god.” Which is far from what secular means.

  • S Cruise

    Shame it was followed by the pledge: “…one nation under god”

  • ramenneedles

    His name is Han Hills, not Hans Hill. :P

  • Hemant Mehta

    FML. Fixed! Thanks!

  • Guest

    Right. Because saying your allegiance lies with the FREE country you live in is such a horrible thing. And there is absolutely no way to not say those words when reciting the Pledge. If the Pledge is so offensive to you maybe living in a Middle Eastern theocracy would be more to your liking? That way you can burn the American flag without catching any crap either. Maybe go on a pork free diet while you’re at it. FFS

  • benanov

    Need help finding the needle in your stack of straw men there?

  • Ryan Hite

    Probably a “prayer” of the future. Soon enough more people will be doing it in the same manner.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Jesus but you are uneducated and reactionary on the subject. I’d set you straight, but odds are you’re just on a flyby whine and not worth the time.

  • S Cruise

    I don’t have a problem with a pledge. I just don’t agree with the phrase “one nation under God”.

    Put it this way: I’m an atheist and humanist. I don’t believe there is a God. The phrase, of course, doesn’t offend me, but pledging my allegiance to a nation under something that doesn’t exist to me, seems irrational. IMO, having that phrase in the pledge kind of de-values the pledge. It make it more of a farce – something you are forced to recite – than something you can whole-heartedly embrace or agree with.

    That’s just my opinion. The rest of your rant isn’t really worth responding to.

  • edb3803

    Let’s hope so!

  • edb3803

    I am always bothered by the religious connotations of our language (like the ubiquitous ‘god bless you’). I never thought of ‘invocation’ as religious, but I think you are correct. It means invoking something for help, generally a higher power, usually supernatural.

    But what would be a better name? I’ve looked, and came up with a few — declaration, proclamation, pronouncement.

  • WoodyTanaka

    The pledge of Allegiance is dopey. First, pledging allegiance to a cloth? Dumb. The god part? Ignorant. Pretending that the US provides judtice and liberty to all? Delusional. Communal patriotism? Creepy.

  • GregFromCos

    I was a huge fan of the AHA ad campaign a few years ago. “We are all humanists.” I think it did a great job of showing us that pretty much everyone within the US is a humanist, although most would never think of calling themselves such.