(RNS) What do atheists “pray” for?

Municipalities around the country are finding out, as nonbelievers of all stripes — atheists, humanists, agnostics and other freethinkers — begin giving invocations at local government meetings.

That’s the result of Greece v. Galloway, the Supreme Court decision handed down in May that allows sectarian prayers of all kinds at public meetings. If Christians can pray in the name of Jesus and Muslims in the name of Allah, then atheists plan to offer invocations of their own.

There have already been secular invocations offered at meetings in Pennsylvania and Illinois, and atheist groups in Florida have asked for a chance at the lectern.

Dan Courtney is scheduled to deliver a deity-free invocation next month in Greece, N.Y.

Dan Courtney is scheduled to deliver a deity-free invocation next month in Greece, N.Y. RNS photo courtesy Dan Courtney

But no secular invocation will get more attention than the one to be given July 15 in the town of Greece, N.Y., the town at the center of the landmark Supreme Court decision. It will be offered by Dan Courtney, a member of the nearby Atheist Community of Rochester, and will focus on inclusion, Courtney said.

“I am going to ask the council to understand the principle that this country was founded on,” Courtney, a friend of one of the two plaintiffs, said when reached by phone. “That the government was founded by the people and it needs to represent all the people regardless of their religious beliefs.”

While many secularists were unhappy that the court upheld prayers at public meetings, they are embracing the decision as best they can. Several secular groups have posted sample invocations on their websites and are encouraging atheists and others to ask for a spot on their local municipality’s calendar.

The move also serves to combat efforts in some locations to support only Christian prayers. Al Bedrosian, a member of the Roanoke County (Va.) Board of Supervisors, for example, has argued that America is a “Christian nation with Christian ideology” and said meetings should open only with Christian prayers. Similar policies have been proposed in municipalities in North Carolina, Delaware and Maryland.

“Given the Supreme Court’s ruling, we have to make sure local governments are allowing anyone who wants to deliver an invocation to give one,” said Hemant Mehta, an atheist author, blogger and activist who is tracking secular invocations. “I wish the invocations were eliminated altogether, but until that happens, might as well add our names to the list.”

So what does an atheist invocation look like? A lot like a prayer — but without any mention of God.

“Let us rise each morning, and strive each day, to do only that which brings happiness and joy to others, and avoid doing things that cause others hurt and pain,” said Ted Utchen, a secularist, just before a city council meeting in Wheaton, Ill., home to evangelical Wheaton College. “And let us, above all, love one another, not to obtain rewards for ourselves now or hereafter or to avoid punishment, but rather always to bring each other contentment and peace. So be it.”

KRE/AMB END WINSTON

29 Comments

  1. “Atheists and other freethinkers”

    INCORRECT. Atheists are not free thinkers. Why would you have to tell a freethinker pigeonholed as an atheist the words to say at their invocation?

    Can’t a freethinker come up with something on their own? Apparently not. They have to be told what they should be saying.

    • Atheist means “I do not believe in God”
      Freethinkers are people who say “I will think as if there is no God judging my thoughts”

      What is the difference?

      • “Atheist” really means “no god.” An atheist is one who believes there is no god, not just a person who does not believe in god.

        A non-theist is a person who asserts a non-belief in a god.

        An agnostic is one who claims not to know or believe, one way or the other, about the existence of a god.

        The differences may seem subtle, but they really are very meaningful.

        • @Gilhan,

          Atheist = “I do not believe in a god”
          Positive Atheist = “I do not believe in god. But I am a humanist”
          Non-Theist = “I do not believe in a god, nor is it relevant.”
          Anti-Theist = “Until God is discovered, we must reject current religions”
          Agnostic = “I do not KNOW if there is a god”
          Freethinker = “I think freely on whether gods exist or not.”
          HARD ATHEIST (rare) = “I CLAIM Gods are impossible”

          If one is Agnostic (‘I don’t know’)
          they are necessarily ATHEIST (‘can’t believe’)

          In my case
          I am a Positive Atheist, Non-Theist, Anti-Theist
          And Agnostic.

          I do NOT claim God is impossible…… But I do not believe.
          And until god is discovered
          and his specific desires clearly revealed to all people equally
          we must abandon the current religions of the world
          as failures.

          • @ Atheist Max

            “In my case
            I am a Positive Atheist…”

            You are, most of the time. And that’s good.

            Check out these meaningful invocations —

            http://humanist-society.org/invocations/resouces/

  2. And when he finishes let the crowd say, “In Jesus name, Amen”! Then the atheist will have completed a real prayer with true love and mercy by the great God that we serve.

    • Wonderful. Then future prayers can be amended from the crowd with all sorts of invocations from various gods and understandings. And instead of harmony we have a continuation of discord. And nativity displays taken over by satirists. While we’re at it, let’s have everybody build piles of wood in front of public buildings to see which one gets spontaneously combusted.

      • That is precisely what the Framers of our Constitution and its Bill of Rights realized so very well. They knew their history. They knew the terror that always resulted when religion and government, church and state were mingled. Freedom of religion also means freedom from religion. That is a gentle way of directing that we should mind our own business. Religious belief–or non-belief–is one’s own business as long as it does not interfere with the rights of others.

    • @Bnax,

      “In Jesus Name” means:

      “In the name of the killer god who condemns babies at birth to eternal torture unless they are sprinkled with holy water from the hand of a sinner.”
      Only a fool could utter such nonsense.

      • Belief is a very delicate, sophisticated phenomenon. It deserves more respect among those who disagree with each other. Dialogue is impossible when we resort to mean-spirited language about the beliefs of others, even worse when the thoughts and language are translated into action. The history of religion, even Christianity, is already too full of that mean spirit.

        We should try to behave, to live beyond that, or we will never be able to live in peace with our differences. The current turmoil in the Middle East is dreadful proof of that. 9/11 was another example of the atrocious result of hatefulness among those who believe differently. Too much of our politics is mirroring that suicidal/killer dread.

        • @Gilhan,

          I agree with you completely regarding dialogue. And yes, we must behave respectfully toward individuals – the believers themselves. There is no reason to harm anyone, nor treat people with disrespect.

          But religion itself must be mocked. There is nothing to respect.
          In the seeds of each religion is division and the invocation to murder and kill – and this goes against peace and humanitarianism.

          Religion is evil.
          Evil which must be laughed out of town.
          “I come not to bring peace… but division” yet “blessed are the peacemakers” – Jesus.

          Good grief!
          This is ridiculous and childish nonsense. Religion is laughable garbage. Time for believers to grow up and throw off this yoke of Jesus/Muhammed/Allah/Yahweh TRASH.

          • Division, is to separate. Separate the truth for the lusts that have oh so commonly corrupted this world, both in the name and against the name of god. For many arose in his name to fool many. In each script you post can be taking into two different paths. One as you stated and another as to reform. I feel you seen many Hippocrates misuse the worlds and therefore has created hatred for there stance. But if many would follow the true laws, voliance wouldn’t be here, but we choose the way of Cain and therefore the works became in vain.

          • @Hell is for you,

            You sound angry that I am rejecting your claims.

            If you tell me a leprechaun exists in your bread box, and I look but see no leprechaun this does not make me angry – so it should not make you angry.

            You should ponder why your god is only visible to you and nobody else. There is no sign that things are getting worse in the world -except in places where religion is growing.

            You appear stuck in a delusion.

        • “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
          and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5)

          This is a disgraceful belief and it must be abandoned.
          There can be no peace in a world where
          People insist on forcing this nonsense onto generations.

          • @Hellsgift2you,

            I have NO faith.
            Only beliefs based on evidence.

            Faith is unsupported nonsense. It is gullibility.
            A person ‘of faith’ should be laughed at. I’m embarrassed for them.

    • And then you are forcing your religious beliefs of those who do not share them. That interference is the very reason for the very first clause of the very First Amendment to our Constitution that prohibited the mingling of religion and government, church and state. It would be better, avoid all problems, if invocations of every kind were avoided in civic affairs.

      • Barry the Baptist

        He is not placing taxes on others for non-conformity, killing them or even suggesting they should leave if they’re bothered. He’s not suggesting they should be quiet and be respectful of his beliefs, or saying that they should be denied a job or an opportunity to participate in government. He’s not offering up his belief system as a foundation for the methods and policies used to run the country they share with him. He’s not suggesting that they are immoral people not to be trusted because of their difference in beliefs. He’s not suggesting their families try to reprogram them or their communities ostracize them. He’s not condemning them to a long, miserable existence for their willful disregard for what he tells them. He doesn’t even finish with a passive-aggressive supplication to his non-belief for their well-being upon departure.

        He is just stating, somewhat vociferously, his observations and the conclusions he had made about beliefs he finds to be ridiculous that others would claim are the bedrock of our guiding political principles. He is not “forcing his beliefs” on others, as if that was a thing via the Internet.

    • Idiot, you are the reason we need special groups to support our rights as non-believers. YOU who cannot stand that others do not believe as you do and would happily impose you beliefs on others under the pretense that it is your right. You disgust me.

  3. ted perantinides

    to llea nats;although i am not an agnosticnor an atheist,we so called christians believe that we are saved.with this assumption christians can say any nonsense that they want.if i were a non-believer show me tangable proof that you are saved.i personally try and work on my salvation on a daily basis

  4. Ms. Wilson,

    As a Humanist I wanted to say thank you for the article. It was refreshing to read and to come across no hint of ill feelings toward the ‘non-believers’ that you references in your piece.

    Sincerely,
    ~Jen

  1. […] What do atheists “pray” for? Municipalities around the country are finding out, as nonbelievers of all stripes — atheists, humanists, agnostics and other freethinkers — begin giving invocations at local government meetings. That’s the result of Greece v. Galloway, the Supreme Court decision handed down in May that allows sectarian prayers of all kinds at public meetings. If Christians can pray in the name of Jesus and Muslims in the name of Allah, then atheists plan to offer invocations of their own. [Read more] […]

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