Greg Lipper, Linda Stephens, Dan Courtney, Susan Galloway, David Niose, Annie Laurie Gaylor and Ron Lindsay.
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor was on hand, along with representatives of several other national secular groups, to witness the first invocation by an atheist delivered at a town board meeting in Greece, N.Y.
Dan Courtney, a local activist and a Lifetime member of FFRF, asked for permission to deliver a secular invocation after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Greeceâ€™s prayer practice of inviting Christian clergy to open governmental meetings. The high court by a 5-4 vote ruled against the rights of Greece plaintiffs Linda Stephens, an atheist who is also a Lifetime member of FFRF, and Susan Galloway, who is culturally Jewish. But as Courtney points out, the decision had â€śan important caveat: The government could no longer excude potential speakers on the basis of religion,â€ť and must now allow nonbelievers and others a chance at the podium.
Courtney delivered his short invocation shortly after 6 p.m. yesterday (July 15), with almost as many members of the media in attendance as the regular audience. Immediately after, he called a press conference with remarks by Ron Lindsay, president of the Center for Inquiry; David Niose, past president of the American Humanist Association and the Secular Coalition for America; Greg Lipper, senior litigation counsel for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and Gaylor. Courtney will also be a guest on this Saturdayâ€™s Freethought Radio, FFRFâ€™s weekly radio broadcast and podcast.
Below are Courtneyâ€™s remarks, followed by Gaylorâ€™s.
Dan Courtneyâ€™s secular invocation
Town of Greece, N.Y., July 15, 2014
Thank you, members of the town board. Thank you, Supervisor Rielich, for allowing me to offer the invocation.
Freethinkers, atheists, non-believers, 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 4th, 1776, the 56 men, who pledged their lives to the document that changed the course of history, agreed to the central tenet that, â€śGovernments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.â€ť
More than 238 years later this 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 founderâ€™s 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. Thank you.
* * *
â€śNothing fails like prayerâ€ť
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylorâ€™s remarks after historic invocation Town of Greece, N.Y., July 15, 2015
Thirty-eight years ago, when I was a college student, my mother and I became aware that the city council in my hometown of Madison, Wis., was scheduling governmental prayer â€” inviting local Christian clergymen to open governmental meetings.
We were truly shocked. So we did what Linda Stephens and Susan Galloway did here in Greece â€” we addressed our city council, asking them to respect the views of all citizens by dropping prayers and religious ritual from governmental meetings. Our request not only stopped common council prayers in Madison within the year, but our actions led to the creation of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. We have since grown from the original two of us to more than 21,000 freethinkers nationwide. FFRF works to keep religion out of government, and to represent the views of those of us who are personally free from religion. We proudly count among our Lifetime Members Linda Stephens and Dan Courtney. In the past 38 years, governmental prayer remains one of the most common complaints FFRF receives over state/church entanglements.
Today about 20% of the U.S. population identifies as nonreligious, so thatâ€™s a lot of people for local governmental bodies to exclude and offend by hosting prayers. Religion is divisive. Government should strive to stay above the religious fray. We believe our Constitution, itself a godless and entirely secular document, whose only references to religion are exclusionary, requires government to be neutral. It is not the governmentâ€™s business to proselytize, or promote faith, or to provide a podium for religious viewpoints at governmental meetings.
Governmental prayers are unnecessary, embarrassing and exclusionary. Citizens should not be made to feel offended, excluded, or like political outsiders because the government they support with their taxes imposes religious ritual at official events. Citizens should not have to show deference or obeisance to a religious ritual they disbelieve in, in order to attend or participate in their local government. Our message to pious politicians is to get off your knees and get to work. If the framers of our Constitution did not feel it necessary to pray over the adoption of our Constitution, we fail to understand why city government needs to pray over liquor licenses, sewers or variances.
The answers for humanityâ€™s questions will never come from above. The unanswered prayers could fill the universe. Our cemeteries are filled with people who prayed to live. Wishful thinking cannot suspend the natural laws of the universe. FFRFâ€™s motto is â€śNothing Fails Like Prayer,â€ť and thatâ€™s the name of our new contest to encourage and recognize secular activists around the country, such as Dan Courtney, to assert their rights, under the Greece Supreme Court ruling, to counter religion in government with secular invocations.
Way back in 1890, a state supreme court, ruling to remove bible recitations from public schools, wisely warned about the dangers of religion in government:
"There is no such source and cause of strife, quarrel, fights, malignant opposition, persecution, and war, and all evil in the state, as religion. Let it once enter our civil affairs, our government would soon be destroyed.â€ť â€“ Supreme Court of Wisconsin, Weiss v. District Board, March 18, 1890
Iâ€™m proud of Linda Stephens, Susan Galloway and Dan Courtney, and thank them for their brave and patriotic actions to safeguard the constitutional separation between state and church.