Four honored for secular invocations

The Freedom From Religion Foundation announced the four winners of its 2016 “Nothing Fails Like Prayer” contest. The competition is set up to honor nontheistic activists who give secular invocations in front of local governmental bodies.

The winners are:

— Aleta Ledendecker of Tennessee had her initial invocation on Jan. 11 before the City Council in Oak Ridge, Tenn., cut short in mid-sentence by the mayor, even though she had 30 seconds left of her designated time. After Ledendecker and FFRF protested, she was allowed to return to give the full opening remarks. Ledendecker was a “presidents’ choice” awardee. Ledendecker, an FFRF Lifetime Member, is founder of the newest FFRF chapter, FFRF East Tennessee.

— Justin Scott of Iowa gave his invocation on May 2 before the City Council in Waterloo, Iowa. He also persuaded the city to proclaim a “Day of Reason” on May 5 to balance the National Day of Prayer. Scott was one of two who won a popular vote by FFRF members and its Facebook followers. Scott won international attention with his one-man campaign as an atheist to publicly question, prior to the Iowa Caucus, every presidential candidate on secular issues.

— David Suhor of Florida is a co-founder of the Satanic Temple West Florida, who sang his invocation before the Pensacola City Council on July 14. He is a musician and teacher who sang text originally written by Lucien Greaves, co-founder of The Satanic Temple. He won the popular vote. Suhor is also a litigant in FFRF’s and the American Humanist Association’s lawsuit against a 25-foot-tall cross in Pensacola’s public Bayview Park.

— David Williamson of Florida has given multiple secular invocations since 2014 and also organized others to give them. He is a plaintiff in the federal lawsuit filed over censorship of a secular invocation in Brevard County, Fla., brought by FFRF, Americans United and the ACLU. Williamson was a “presidents’ choice” awardee. Williamson is founder of FFRF’s chapter, Central Florida Freethought Community.

All four honorees received expense-paid trips to repeat their secular invocations at FFRF’s 39th annual national convention in Pittsburgh. Each also received a formal plaque and a $500 honorarium.

“We’re proud of all the contestants for their success in balancing governmental prayer,” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. Gaylor praised activists for their persistence and diligence, and willingness to speak publicly.

The new contest for 2017 opened on Sept. 1 and ends Aug. 1, 2017. The winner or winners will be attending FFRF’s 40th annual national convention in Madison, Wis., Sept. 15-17, 2017.

The contest began in response to an unfortunate ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2014 “blessing” sectarian prayers by city and county governments. The silver lining in that ruling was the court’s qualification that the practice is permissible — providing all comers, including atheists and religious minorities, are permitted to participate.

“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,” adds Dan Barker, FFRF co-president.

Freedom From Religion Foundation