Members’ atheist invocations draw crowds

Dan Courtney, an FFRF Life Member and engineer who’s active with the Atheist Society of Rochester and is past president of the Free Thinkers of Upstate New York, delivered the first atheist invocation at a town board meeting in Greece, N.Y., after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in May that said Greece’s practice of allowing sectarian prayer was OK as long as the town didn’t discriminate.

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor came from Wisconsin to lend moral support (and promptly sat down during the “under God” part of the Pledge of Allegiance). The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reported more than 100 people and 14 news cameras were present.

Courtney said he was surprised by all the media attention. “I would like it to get to a point where this would not be news at all, but at the same time, I appreciate the attention because this is important in a society that to a large extent doesn’t respect nonbelief.”

Many in the audience held supportive signs such as “I Stand for Secular Values.” A protester held a “JESUS SAVES. Ye must be BORN AGAIN” sign and said he felt “compelled” to come. He wouldn’t identify himself, the paper reported.

Lisa Gleason of Greece wore a shirt that said “I’m an atheist because . . . I have read it” on the front and “1 Corinthians 14:34 Women should remain silent in the Churches” on the back.

“I think this will spur people across the country to push harder,” she said.

Dan Courtney, Greece, N.Y. City Council, 7-15-14

Thank you, members of the Town Board. Thank you, Supervisor Rielich, for allowing me to offer the invocation.

Freethinkers, atheists, nonbelievers, whatever label you wish, this group comprises a significant part of our population. I am honored to be providing an invocation on their behalf and on behalf of all the citizens of the town of Greece.

On July 4, 1776, the 56 men who pledged their lives to the document that changed the course of history, agreed to the central tenet that, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

More than 238 years later, the central premise still echoes, however faintly, from the town hall to the white-columned halls of Washington. Yet this premise, this foundation necessary for a free and flourishing society, is today, more than ever, under assault. This central pillar of a free society; this notion that is deeply heretical to authoritarian culture, proclaims that it is from the people that moral authority is derived. It is that within us, the citizens, that knowledge and wisdom must emerge.

The preservation of this premise does not come from accepting the status quo, but by asserting our rights and exercising our duties. That this premise still endures testifies to its truth, and we can say with confidence that it is in seeking the counsel of our conscience that we find the beginning of wisdom. It is in the exercise of our duty as citizens that we find the beginning of knowledge.

We, as citizens, the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega of our destiny, are not, as the great philosopher Immanuel Kant warned, mere means to the ends of another, but we are ends in ourselves.

This basic premise, this profound idea, guides us such that we need not kneel to any king, and we need not bow to any tyrant.

So I ask all officials present here, as guarantors of our Founders’ revolutionary proclamation, to heed the counsel of the governed, to seek the wisdom of all citizens, and to honor the enlightened wisdom and the profound courage of those 56 brave men.

Linda Allewalt, Secular invocation, Shelbyville, Ky., City Council, 7-17-14

Good evening. As this is a secular invocation and not a prayer, there is no need to stand during my presentation. Tonight I would like to have us think about “blessings.” 

Last year the council passed a set of resolutions outlining their new program for including invocations in city council meetings. In the resolutions, the council stated that the main purpose of an opening invocation was “for the benefit and blessings of the council.” 

The word “blessings” drew my attention because it is a word heard often in our society in differing contexts. I wondered what the term really means. The origins of the word “bless” are from Old English and its meaning is connected to a human action. It refers to the action of sprinkling blood on a pagan altar. I don’t think that is what the council had in mind.

But what did they have in mind when using that term? It appears from reading the resolutions and how the invocation system is set up that they feel the source of blessings comes exclusively from a divine entity. But is that true? And what do “blessings” have to do with the realm of government?

The founders of our country provided us with a clue in this paragraph. “We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”  

The founders did not mention a divine source for their “blessings,” but a human one. . . we the people. We the people take the actions and make the laws to secure our blessings for ourselves and for future generations. Following these words are the contents of our Constitution . . . a vehicle to assist us in securing our blessings of liberty. The Constitution makes no mention of a deity in creating this vehicle, and its authors chose not to invoke blessings from a divine entity during their deliberations. 

I would appeal to the council and those in attendance here to consider this:

In government, blessings are the actions we take and the decisions we make out of our common human desire to form communities and make them successful. The council’s blessings come from working with fellow council members in trying to fulfill their roles as representatives of all the people. They also come from the citizens who take the time to attend and offer their advice, their expertise, and even their criticism. These blessings do not need to be invoked. They are at your fingertips every day. 

So I would encourage the council and all those who make the efforts to ensure the success of our community to consider these observable and measurable blessings –— to consider their true source, and to never forget to count them!

I wish you a peaceful and productive meeting.

Editor’s note: Linda adds that since she followed up her invocation with a statement during the public comments section of the meeting advising the council to shut the discriminatory program down, “I think this is my first and last invocation!”

Freedom From Religion Foundation