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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

Despite efforts by the local chapter of Metroplex Atheists to deliver secular invocations, the Rowlett City Council in Texas has censored its request for equal time, maintaining that only eligible clergy members may host governmental prayer. 

The May 5 Supreme Court ruling in Greece v. Galloway, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, permitted religious invocations at government provided “that a minister or layperson of any persuasion, including an atheist, could give the invocation” 134 S. Ct. at 1816.

Thus far, the Town of Greece, N.Y., site of the ruling, has adopted a more inclusive policy, inviting a Jewish layperson, a Wiccan priestess, and on July 15, an atheist, FFRF Life Member Dan Courtney, to deliver the opening invocation at its town meetings. Conversely — despite a joint letter to the Rowlett City Council on July 24 (following a June 24 letter) from the Freedom From Religion Foundation and Americans United for Separation of Church and State — the Town of Rowlett caters to its Christian majority, excluding non-Christians and nonbelievers from the equal opportunity required by law. 

As Justice Elena Kagan noted in her dissent, "When citizens of all faiths come to speak to each other and their elected representatives in a legislative session, the government must take especial care to ensure that the prayers they hear will seek to include, rather than serve to divide." 

We would rather see the pernicious influence of religion in the governmental sphere end entirely. But as long as divisive religious speech continues to be inserted into otherwise inclusive and secular community meetings, nonreligious invocations must be accorded equal time. Please help us send the message to Rowlett City Council that there are community members — family, coworkers, friends — who are among the 20% of the U.S. population today that identifies as nonreligious. Let them know we have voices, and that we plan to use them. 

CONTACT

Please phone or email the Rowlett City Council now! 

Main contact: 
Todd W. Gottel, Mayor —  
City Secretary’s Office  

(972) 412-6115 

If you have time, cc the City Council members below: 

  • Michael Gallops, Mayor Pro Tem, City Councilmember Place 6 —  
  • Robbert van Bloemendaal — City Councilmember Place 1 —  
  • Tammy Dana-Bashian — City Councilmember Place 2 —  
  • Carl Pankratz, Deputy Mayor Pro Tem, City Councilmember Place 3 —  
  • Debby Bobbitt, City Councilmember Place 4 —  
  • Rick Sheffield, City Councilmember Place 5 —  

If you live in the Rowlett area, you may wish to attend or speak out during the public comment period. Rowlett City Council meetings are on the first and third Tuesdays of every month; the next is Tuesday August 5, at the City Hall Municipal Building, located at 4000 Main St., Rowlett, TX 75088. 

If you live in another community in which there is governmental prayer, consider fighting back by entering FFRF’s Nothing Fails Like Prayer contest

It’s also helpful to write a letter to your local newspaper on why prayer in government is inappropriate. 

TALKING POINTS

Use your own language or feel free to use any of the language below. If you live in Rowlett, please be sure to identify yourself as a Rowlett resident. 

As a Texas citizen, I demand that government officials make room for religious diversity, including opportunities for secular voices to be heard. Since Rowlett City Council meetings currently open with religious invocations, it’s improper and discriminatory to muzzle nonreligious individuals who seek the opportunity to give opening remarks. Rowlett city council has indicated that you intend “to adopt a policy that does not proselytize or advance any faith, or show any purposeful preference of one religious view to the exclusion of others,” yet you only permit members of the clergy to deliver invocations. Featuring only prayers that invoke “Jesus” and Christian values shows a “purposeful preference” and makes those of us who do not believe in a monotheistic god or any gods feel like second-class citizens in our own community. 

We stand with Metroplex Atheists and affirm its right to deliver a secular invocation during an upcoming council meeting. Please grant its request, and please revise your policy so as not to exclude the non-Christian and nonreligious members of your community. 

Thank you for taking action now!

The Pierce County Council (Tacoma area) is considering displaying "In God We Trust" in its council chambers at the County-City Government Building. The resolution proposed by councilman Jim McCune will be considered tonight by a subcommittee. It’s on the agenda for final vote at the public meeting on Tuesday, July 29. (Please show up before 3:00 P.M. to speak against this proposal, if you live in the area. See information below.) 

According to KIRO 7, when asked whether citizens who believe in another religion would still feel included in a place where this motto is displayed, Councilman McCune said, “I don’t see why not. If I go to another country, they have their statement, or their particular deity.” 

Our country was founded on entirely secular principles, and government has no business endorsing any “particular deity.” County council members are elected to represent all citizens, including those of us who do not believe in a monotheistic god or any gods. Both supporters and opponents of the proposal recognize that "In God We Trust" is a religious statement. The history of the motto "In God We Trust" evidences no secular purpose; on the contrary, the motto was first adopted in 1956 during the Cold War, as a reaction to the purported "godlessness" of communism. "E Pluribus Unum" [out of many, one] is the entirely secular original motto selected by a distinguished committee of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. 

TAKE ACTION 

Please attend the public meeting and voice your opposition against the proposal to add a religious public display to the County Council Chambers. 

When: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 at 3:00 PM 


Where: County-City Building, Council Chambers - Room 1045 (930 Tacoma Ave. S. Tacoma, WA 98402) 

If you can’t attend or live outside the area, please immediately contact members of the Pierce County Council via phone or email: 

Dan Roach, District 1 
 
253-798-3635 
 
Joyce McDonald, District 2 
 
253-798-6694 
 
Jim McCune, District 3 
 
253-798-6626 
 
Connie Ladenburg, District 4 
 
253-798-7590 
 
Rick Talbert, District 5 
 
253-798-6653 
 
Douglas Richardson, District 6 
 
253-798-3308 
 
Stan Flemming, District 7 
 
253-798-6654 

TALKING POINTS 

If you live in Pierce County, please be sure to indicate you’re a local citizen. 

(Use your own words or feel free to copy the language below.) 

I strongly oppose the proposal to post a public display of the words “In God We Trust” in the Pierce County Council Chambers. The phrase is not representative of all Pierce County residents. In fact, the Pew Research Center reports that nearly 20% of adult Americans and one in three young adults are now nonreligious. According to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, 25% of Washington adults are nonbelievers. To be accurate, the phrase would have to say, ‘In God Some of Us Trust,’ and wouldn’t that be silly? “In God We Trust” is a johnny-come-lately motto that was not adopted until 1956 during the Cold War. Our nation’s first and original motto, “E Pluribus Unum” (From many, [come] one) was chosen by a distinguished committee of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, celebrates diversity, and excludes no citizen. Why not display this historic motto instead? 

County Council members are elected to represent all citizens, including those of us who do not believe in a monotheistic god or any gods. Please reject this divisive and religiously exclusionary proposal. 

The Office of the Commissioner of Information is backpedaling following reports last week that it would not enforce a Wisconsin law mandating that all health insurance plans include contraceptive coverage. Today FFRF filed a second open public records request to learn what’s going on. 

An Office spokesperson reportedly said that because of the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Wisconsin’s contraceptive coverage mandate was “federally pre-empted,” and that the Hobby Lobby case “supersedes [the] state statute.” By all accounts, the Office intended to exempt employers with “religious objections” from obeying state law, and to fail to uphold the rights of Wisconsin women employees under Wisconsin’s 2009 law mandating contraceptive coverage. 

That all changed following objections from FFRF and other organizations. FFRF was first to protest, sending a July 21 letter to Commissioner Theodore Nickel. FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel pointed out the obvious that the Hobby Lobby case does not apply to state law. The Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is unconstitutional as applied to states. Read prior news release here

A few days after receiving FFRF’s letter, the Office changed its tune, telling news media that employees would still have contraceptive coverage, although it may come from separate insurance coverage if the employer raises a religious objection. No explanation was given by the Office for its spokesperson’s explicit references to the irrelevant Hobby Lobby decision. At least 26 states have independent laws requiring contraceptive coverage according to the National Conference of State Legislatures

“The Office’s statements are dumbfounding,” said Seidel. “Hobby Lobby has nothing to do with regulating state insurance plans. There can be no pre-emption of state law since the decision very clearly only applies to federal law.” 

Commissioner Nickel, according to his bio on the Governor’s cabinet webpage, worked for 18 years in the private religious insurance industry, as director of governmental and regulatory affairs for Church Mutual Insurance Company. The company specializes in insuring churches and religious organizations. 

“The decision by the Commissioner of Information — or should we call it the ‘Commissioner of Disinformation’? — raises questions of competence or ethics. Either the Office does not understand basic legal principles or it intentionally misled Wisconsin employers and citizens,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. 

“OCI’s comments obfuscate rather than clarify, so we’re requesting records to get to the bottom of this,” added Gaylor.

Ignacio School District in Ignacio, Colo., will no longer feature prayers at certain ceremonies held throughout the academic year.

A complainant reported to FFRF that the District included prayers before graduation, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas ceremonies. It was also reported that two prayers are offered at each of these events, one to a Christian god and another to the Ute Native American god.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a letter on Oct. 18, explaining that it is illegal to have prayer at school-sponsored events:

“It is of no consequence if the school, as has been alleged, includes prayer of varying faiths. The school district has a legal duty to remain neutral toward religion. By scheduling any prayer at all the school necessarily excludes non-Christian, non-Ute and non-religious students.”

Seidel noted, “the courts have continually reaffirmed that the rights of minorities are protected by the Constitution.”

After receiving a follow-up letter, the district responded on June 23 that, “We have discontinued that practice.” 

This six-word response sets a record for the most concise victory letter an FFRF Staff Attorney has ever received. 

After a series of complaints by parents and students spanning over a decade, Bainbridge Island School District in Bainbridge Island, Wash., will no longer allow youth pastors access to impressionable students during school hours.

Several concerned parents and students reported to FFRF that three youth pastors from local churches were regularly granted access to Woodward Middle School students during lunchtime. The pastors were associated with Young Life, a Christian organization whose mission is “[i]ntroducing adolescents to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith.

The middle school previously received multiple complaints from both students and parents about the pastors at Youth Life.  In 2000, the school attempted to develop policies meant to curb aggressive proselytizing in schools, but youth pastors actively circumvented the measures.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a strongly worded letter to the district on Oct. 29, 2013, explaining why these multiple violations are so egregious, “It is both inappropriate and dangerous for schools to grant outsiders carte blanche access to minors — a captive audience — in a public school, let alone have that access to proselytize.”

Seidel explained: “BDIS has been complicit in granting religious recruiters continuous, unmonitored access to school students for quite some time. . . the length of time over which this violation has been allowed to continue is deplorable.”

BDIS Assistant Superintendent Peter Bang-Knudsen replied on June 23 that the District has taken several steps to resolve the matter, hiring an independent investigator whose findings were reported at a school board meeting. FFRF was informed that the three youth pastors were removed from their volunteer duties, and significant revisions on volunteer policy were made to the volunteer handbook. 

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