It's time to show our government that official prayer is unconstitutional, pointless, divisive and offensive. The U.S. Supreme Court unwisely "blessed" sectarian blessings by city and county governments in its May 5, 2014, Town of Greece v. Galloway decision.
If the Supreme Court won't uphold our godless and entirely secular Constitution — adopted at a prayerless constitutional convention — it's up to us. It's up to you!
Although the Greece decision is a blow to secularism and the rights of the nonreligious, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the decision did include reasoning that acknowledges the right of an atheist to give the invocation:
"The town at no point excluded or denied an opportunity to a would-be prayer giver. Its leaders maintained that a minister or layperson of any persuasion, including an atheist, could give the invocation." Town of Greece, N.Y. v. Galloway, 12-696, 2014 WL 1757828 (U.S. May 5, 2014).
To foster the groundswell of protest against government prayer, FFRF announces the creation of its newest activism award: The Nothing Fails Like Prayer Award. The award will be given for the best secular "invocation" at a government meeting. The annual winner or winners will receive a commemorative plaque, $500 and will be invited to deliver the invocation at FFRF's annual convention. Be a Paine in the government's Mass — a Thomas Paine.
All eligible entries will receive a commemorative certificate. FFRF will post eligible video entries of the secular invocation at its website and/or reprint it in FFRF's newspaper, Freethought Today.
We'd like to see secular citizens flood government meetings with secular invocations that illustrate why government prayers are unnecessary, ineffective, embarrassing, exclusionary, divisive or just plain silly. The more citizens that protest prayers, the more likely government prayers will stop.
The individual or individuals judged to give the "best" secular invocation will be invited to open FFRF's annual convention with the "invocation," receiving an all-expenses-paid trip to FFRF's annual convention (this year at the Los Angeles Biltmore Oct. 24-25), a plaque and an honorarium of $500.
FFRF plans to make the contest an annual event until the Greece decision is overturned.
- Give an invocation during the official invocation period at any government meeting (not during the public comment period)
- Prepare a copy of the video recording of your invocation (link, file, or DVD)
- Prepare a written transcript of your invocation (print, PDF, or MS Word)
- Prepare your personal information:
Your phone number (for FFRF use only)
Your email address (for FFRF use only)
Your mailing address (for FFRF use only)
The name of the government body where you gave your invocation
The date you gave your invocation
A short personal bio
Tips for winning:
• Get the government to stop prayer after your prayer!
• Show the government why prayers are unconstitutional as part of a government meeting or ridiculous.
• Don't be shy about your lack of belief. Be an out and proud freethinker!
• Often, governments require "ordained" prayer-givers . Here are some options for atheists:
• The United Church of Bacon (Praise Bacon!) offers free ordination (click: Join, Become Ordained)
• For $20, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster will ordain you and give you a certificate
• The First Church of Atheism gives ordinations for free, but you can order cards and certificates for a fee.
• The higher the quality of video recording the better your chances of winning. Use a tripod! (Don't rely on a cell phone if possible.)
• Your invocation can be sincere yet secular, like Arizona Rep. Juan Mendez's invocation, for which he won FFRF's Emperor Has No Clothes Award, or light-hearted or even facetious (think Flying Spaghetti Monster).
Declare and share your nonbelief! Although the nonreligious — including one in five U.S. citizens — is a significant segment of the world population, many Americans have never knowingly met a nonbeliever. You can help dispel myths, educate and promote reason by adding your voice, face and message to FFRF's friendly neighborhood freethinker campaign. This is your chance to proclaim you're a freethinker and why. It's working for the gay rights movement. Now it's time for atheists and agnostics to come out of our closet. Many faces make Enlightenment work.
Sources, with scans of some of the originals
“Whenever we read the Obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we call it the word of a Demon, than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind: and, for my own part, I sincerely detest it as I detest everything that is cruel.”
Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Part I, (1826 edition) page 13 (first published by R. Carlile, London, 1794) available on Google books.
First recorded use of name, “The United States of America”
Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, no. 2 (January 13, 1777).
“Independence is my happiness, and I view things as they are, without regard to place or person; my country is the world, and my religion is to do good.”
Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, Part 2, page 50 (first published by J. Parsons, London, 1792) available on Google books.
“I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.”
Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Part I, (1826 edition) page 4 (first published by R. Carlile, London, 1794) available on Google books.
“When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it, so that its professors are oblig’d to call for help of the civil power, ‘tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”
Benjamin Franklin, Letter to Dr. Richard Price, October 9, 1780, in The Private Correspondence of Benjamin Franklin, part I (ed. William Temple Franklin, 2nd ed., Henry Colburn, London 1817) p. 69, available on Google books.
"The Convention, except three or four persons, thought Prayers unnecessary."
Max Farand, The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, Volume 1 (Yale University Press, 1911) p. 452, n. 15, available at The Library of Congress.
“Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony & irreconciliable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause . . .”
Washington’s refusal to take communion, kneel in prayer, pray at Valley Forge, and have priests and Christian rituals at his deathbed is well-documented. See Ron Chernow, Washington: A Life (Penguin, 2010); Edward G. Lengel, Inventing George Washington (Harper Collins Publishers, 2011); Joseph J. Ellis, His Excellency: George Washington (First Vintage Books Edition, 2005); Brooke Allen, Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers, (Ivan R. Dee Publisher 2006).
GW refused to take communion
On the rare occasions when Washington did attend church, perhaps 12 times a year pre-presidency and only three times in his last three years, he made it a point not to take communion (although Martha did). When asked specifically if Washington was a “communicant of the Protestant Episcopal church,” Bishop William White, who officiated in churches Washington occasionally attended wrote, “truth requires me to say that Gen. Washington never received the communion in the churches of which I am the parochial minister. Mrs. Washington was an habitual communicant.” Bishop William White, letter to Colonel Mercer, Aug. 15, 1835. Other contemporary ministers who personally knew Washington confirm his distaste for cannibalism, symbolic or otherwise. Allen at 31; Lengel at 13; Chernow at 131.
GW did not kneel in prayer
Lengel at 13, 91; Ellis at 45; Chernow at 131.
GW did not pray at Valley Forge
Historians agree that this did not happen. There is no contemporaneous report to verify it and the original report is from The Life of Washington, by Parson Mason Weems, who did not include the story until the 17th edition and also gave us the myth of the cherry tree. See Lengel, 13, 22-23, 76-86; Chernow, 131.
GW did not have a priest at his deathbed or take last rites
There was ". . . missing presence at the deathbed scene: there were no ministers in the room, no prayers uttered, no Christian rituals offering the solace of everlasting life. … He died as a Roman stoic rather than a Christian saint.” Ellis, 269. See also Chernow.
GW did not add “so help me God” to the presidential oath
The oath, laid out in laid out in Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution, does not contain the religious verbiage and according to Edward Lengel, editor-in-chief of the George Washington papers and over 60 volumes of Washington’s documents, put it: “any attempt to prove that Washington added the words ‘so help me God’ requires mental gymnastics of the sort that would do credit to the finest artist of the flying trapeze.” See Lengel, 105.
In all of Washington’s correspondence, “several thousand letters[,] the name of Jesus Christ never appears, and it is noatbly absent from his last will.”
Gen. A.W. Greely, “Washington's Domestic and Religious Life,” Ladies’ Home Journal, (April, 1896). See also, Lengel at 13;
Treaty of Tripoli, Art. 11 (1797). Negotiated during the George Washington’s presidency, signed by Adams, unanimously approved by the Senate, in American State Papers, Foreign Relations: Vol. 2, page 19: Senate, 5th Cong., 1st sess., 26 May 1797. View the treaty at the Library of Congress.
“Religion. your reason is now mature enough to examine this object. In the first place, divest yourself of all bias in favor of novelty & singularity of opinion. indulge them in any other subject rather than that of religion. it is too important, & the consequences of error may be too serious. on the other hand, shake off all the fears & servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.”
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”
Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Danbury Baptists (January 1, 1802).
See the original draft, which referred to it as a “wall of eternal separation” here.
“During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.”
James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments (1785) ¶ 7. See the original here.
If you haven’t read this concise masterpiece, please do so now.
Madison opposed chaplainces, government days of prayer:
“Is the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom? In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the U. S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion… The establishment of the chaplainship to Congress is a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of Constitutional principles.”
Madison was equally critical of presidential and governmental prayer: “Religious proclamations by the Executive recommending thanksgivings & fasts are shoots from the same root… Although recommendations only, they imply a religious agency, making no part of the trust delegated to political rulers. … An advisory Government is a contradiction in terms. The members of a Government as such can in no sense, be regarded as possessing an advisory trust from their Constituents in their religious capacities. In their individual capacities, as distinct from their official station, they might unite in recommendations of any sort whatever, in the same manner as any other individuals might do.”
A three pence tax to support teachers of the Christian religion “will destroy that moderation and harmony which the forbearance of our laws to intermeddle with Religion has produced among its several sects. Torrents of blood have been split in the old world, by vain attempts of the secular arm, to extinguish Religious disscord, by proscribing all difference in Religious opinion. Time has at length revealed the true remedy.”
James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments (1785) ¶ 11.