It’s not uncommon for legislative bodies – federal, state or local – to open their sessions with an invocation or prayer. And while many of these bodies do make an effort to allow people of faiths other than Christian to give the opening prayer, groups often left out are the atheists, secularists and other non believers.
The Supreme Court ruled in May of 2014 that prayers – even prayers that favor a specific religion – given before opening of a legislative session do not violate the constitution.
Justice Kennedy wrote:
“Ceremonial prayer is but a recognition that, since this Nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond the authority of government,
which to me is a pleasant way of saying, “there’s more Christians than you atheists, so nyah.”
Even with the Court’s decision, however, the matter isn’t going away.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a legal challenge to the Pensylvania House of Representatives’ use of prayer to open a session is being heard in court.
The issue has been brought up by a group of atheists who say they’ve petitioned for, and been denied, the right to give an invocation to open the governing body’s sessions.
Some members of the House say their exclusion of nonbelievers is covered under the state’s constitution, which says that those giving the invocation would be members of a “regularly established church or religious institution.”
While the argument that atheists by and large aren’t members of a “regularly established church or religious institution” there are plenty of recognized churches that are atheistic, such as the Church of Satan and The Satanic Temple. It would seem the House would be on shaky legal ground if they denied a member of these churches the right to give the opening prayer.
And really, what’s the harm in letting someone of a different faith or someone of no faith say a few words before your meeting. If your faith is strong enough, then it shouldn’t bother you. This seems more about discriminating against a certain group than it does about upholding the law or the constitution. I don’t know if these people are afraid we atheists are going to get up and sacrifice a chicken to Beelzebub or what.
But it shouldn’t matter, anyway. There’s no good reason today to open a government meeting with an appeal to some invisible “higher authority” when there’s no solid evidence such an authority exists. The fact that government is so often screwed up and ineffective is proof enough that appealing to a god isn’t doing any good.
I serve on a small board here in town, and thankfully we don’t open our sessions with prayer. The only religious aspect comes when swearing someone in and they’re asked to tell the truth “so help me god,” which still makes me cringe.
I think the only appropriate invocation one should utter before any board or committee meeting is, “Let’s get this shit over with.”