Invocation by Dan Barker

This is a draft of Dan Barker’s proposed secular invocation to be delivered before the U.S. House of Representatives.

Celebrating the wondrous fact that the sovereign authority of our great nation is not a monarch, lord, supreme master or any power higher than “We, the people of these United States,” and recognizing that we Americans, a proudly rebellious people, fought a Revolutionary War to shatter the bonds of tyranny, let us rejoice in the inalienable liberty of conscience our forefathers and foremothers risked their lives to establish and our country continues to defend against those enemies who despise freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of thought.

An invocation is a time when we invoke the assistance and guidance of someone outside of ourselves. In the United States, our “higher power” is the authority the electorate has provisionally bestowed upon the guidance of our representatives, who work not for a king or dictator, but for the public good.

Representing tens of millions of good Americans who are not religious and millions of patriotic citizens who do not believe in a god, I cannot invoke a spirit or supernatural agency before this esteemed body.

But I can invoke the “spirit” of the founding patriot Thomas Paine, a nonChristian deist who argued for Common Sense over dogma.

I can invoke the “spirit” of Thomas Jefferson, another nonChristian deist, who stated that our Constitution “erects a wall of separation between church and state” creating the first nation in history to dissolve the formal bonds between religion and government.

I can invoke the “spirit” of James Madison, who stated that “being under the direction of reason and conviction only, not of violence or compulsion, all men are entitled to the full and free exercise of [religion], according to the dictates of conscience.”

I can invoke the courage of revolutionary leaders who strove to create a nation where the pursuit of human happiness is unhampered by imposed tradition or coerced doctrine, declaring that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

I can invoke the bravery and compassion of Ernestine L. Rose, the first canvasser for women’s rights in America who was denied the opportunity to speak before Congress simply because she did not believe in God.

I can invoke the tenacity and empathy of the atheist Elizabeth Cady Stanton who battled for fifty years for women’s rights and who, with her agnostic friend Susan B. Anthony, wrote the Nineteenth Amendment that now affirms the once-radical principle that all citizens can participate in their own democracy. Their close friend, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass said, “I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”

But mainly, today, I invoke you, our chosen representatives, who know that laws should be based on fairness, not ancient codes. That policy should be based on reason, not privilege. That ethics should be aimed at wellbeing, to reduce real violence in the real world, not to appease a deity or flatter a lord. I invoke the “higher power” of your wisdom to solve natural problems in the natural world, the only world we have.

When it comes to government, it doesn’t matter who is right or wrong in matters of religion. We are all free to think for ourselves. As the great nineteenth-century agnostic orator Robert Green Ingersoll said, let’s agree to take it “one world at a time.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation