SLO atheists to partake in city council invocations

September 3, 2014

invocationA San Luis Obispo atheist organization that opposes the practice of conducting prayer at city council meetings will now be participating in council invocations in San Luis Obispo County.

Atheists United San Luis Obispo is planning on joining the regular rotation for city council invocations in Arroyo Grande and Paso Robles. In a press release issued last week, organization president Steven Arkowitz said Atheists United would begin participating in the Paso Robles invocation at the council meeting which took place Tuesday.

“While we think that our government’s time would be better spent governing and not praying, if a council insists on holding invocations, Atheists United will be there to ensure that the non-believers in our community are represented,” Arkowitz said.

Previously, the organization challenged the invocation practice at Pismo Beach council meetings. A member of the San Luis Obispo atheists chapter sued Pismo Beach, along with the nonprofit Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Pismo Beach settled the lawsuit by eliminating its practice of prayer before council meetings and by paying nearly $50,000 in legal fees and damages.

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I apologize for the slow reply.

I quite like your suggested invocation as I believe it fits with the overall theme of what we are trying to communicate.

However, I will take issue with your suggestion that we (Atheists United) push an anti-God agenda and it is with subtle offensive barbs that we pursue it. I am not the author of this invocation but I suspect that the offending quote is meant to point out the inappropriateness of the typical Christian invocation. It is inappropriate (and dare I say offensive) for a clergyman to ask attendees of a city council meeting to bow their heads and pray for divine intervention in providing the council wisdom in their governance.

When citizens are elected as government officials they are obligated to set aside their beliefs even (especially) if their beliefs are held by the majority of the people. It is inappropriate for that government to make their minority populations feel ostracized in a public forum as the majority bow their heads in prayer.

Our concern here is not an anti-God agenda; it is to point out the unconstitutional harm caused by the population’s majority on a minority. In this case the minority is the non-Christian population of the city but we believe as strongly in equal rights for all minorities be they minorities in religion, race, or sexual orientation.

I am surprised by the amount of hatred and vitriol that many of those who are religious are sharing in these comments. We at Atheists United SLO promote equality and respect to all. In the matter of religious invocations we are not trying to take away a right of others but rather we insist on equal rights for all (including non-believers).

If you were to listen to the invocation given you will hear that it was a message suggesting that we all have the power and obligation to improve ourselves and our community for everyone’s benefit. The invocation asked the city council to use their own experience and reason in governing rather praying to an outside god for wisdom. What is wrong with this?

In part:

“In this room let us celebrate our shared capacity for reason and compassion and our dedication to the people of our community. Let us root the policymaking process in these values that are relevant to all in our community regardless of religious belief or nonbelief. In the decision making process, please be guided by your knowledge, your experience, your education, and upon sound scientific evidence.

We must remember that in the face of adversity we need not look above for answers, but instead recognize the proven potential within ourselves and in each other to overcome any challenges we face.”

See for yourself who we are:

Your invocation is offensive to me. The words “…we need not look above for answers…” succinctly outline YOUR beliefs by ever so softly denigrating those of others. They’re offensive because you offer them not as a part of your own statement of beliefs, but because you offer them as universal fact when they are not.

Have you ever considered that you cannot really push your own beliefs without attacking those of others? Have you ever considered how they might offend other?

Your invocation could be modified to something like:

“In this room let us celebrate our shared capacity for reason and compassion and our dedication to the people of our community. Let us use these qualities to the best of our abilities in the policy making process we have been elected in which to participate.”

The only problem is that it would not serve your anti-God agenda. You’re not fooling anyone.