Atheist to Offer Godless ‘Prayer’ in Town That Prompted Supreme Court Decision

Dan Courtney(RNS) What do self-styled atheists ‘pray’ for?

Municipalities around the country are finding out, as various nonbelievers of all stripes, including so-called atheists, humanists, agnostics and others, begin offering “prayers” to nothing at local government meetings.

That’s the result of Greece v. Galloway, the Supreme Court decision handed down in May that upheld the right for prayer to be held at public meetings. If Christians can pray in the name of Jesus, then atheists plan to offer so-called 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.

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.

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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 a so-called atheist invocation look like?

“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.”

Christian News Network contributed to this report.

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  • Glenn

    Such Christian love and charity on display in these comments. Why, oh why are you so angry that people believe differently than you?

    “To pray, by definition, can mean to entreat, to beseech, to implore–to make a request of a person or persons. The verb is not restricted to communion with a god, but may include communion with our fellow citizens.”

    The above quote from this post: An Atheist Town Council Prayer

    • Ann Robertson

      Glenn asks the following question of Christians: “Why, oh why are you so angry that people believe differently than you?”

      This is a question I’d like to ask of atheists, homosexuals, Muslims and several other groups of people.

  • Tim Dixon

    Why does the author keep saying “so-called” atheists? How can Christians prove that they are not falsely so called? Have you taken the Lord’s name, but not lived in His way?

    Why do the “Christians” here show so little imagination and so much hatred? Why do they call their brothers fools?

    An atheist would ask the people present to remember that they are all human, to be understanding, and to work for the good of all. They would not condemn or divide.

    An atheist “prayer” is no stranger than the Pledge of Allegiance. It is a secular dedication to a shared ideal.

  • Servant

    Some day the atheists, agnostics, and ALL other non-believers will be taught God’s Truth of the way things really are, and won’t they be surprised!


  • Michael

    I read the sample atheist prayer and to my surprise it looks much like a Christian prayer! Why? Because everyone has the Word of God written on their heart.

    An atheist trying to pretend there is no God couldn’t make a prayer to nothing because the entire Christian faith is based on one another! We’re commanded to love one another. It’s the very essence of the Bible.

    Funny how God uses everything for His Glory…and the atheist has just been used! Amen and Glory to the Highest!

  • Christopher Letzelter

    And at that point you’ll be dead and gone, no more conscious than a rock, and won’t know that your assertion above was completely false.