Opportunities for local activism are easy to find these days, and while our plates are already brimming with important work that keeps our organizations thriving, it is rare when an opportunity comes along that requires little effort but can help us meet several goals at one time. The recent decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway is that perfect opportunity and every local leader in the movement should consider taking advantage of it. The Supreme Court made clear that governments must have non-discriminatory invocation policies and upheld Greece’s practice largely because “a minister or layperson of any persuasion, including an atheist, could give an invocation.” Put simply, a humanist resident cannot be denied the opportunity to offer an invocation if citizens of other faiths deliver invocations.
The time to act is now while your members, your local government, and the media are still talking about it. These are just a few of the benefits that are too good to pass up:
- Educating elected officials and all in attendance about Humanist values
- Testing the forum for equal protection to ensure compliance with the ruling
- Normalizing the participation of nonbelievers in local government meetings
- Engaging local media about our message of inclusion and diversity
The Central Florida Freethought Community (CFFC) is an affiliate of the American Humanist Association (AHA) and a chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). Our mission is to unite members of local freethought organizations in state/church activism. While we disagree with the Court’s decision in Town of Greece since it continues to allow prayer at government meetings, we are turning it into something truly positive.
We have members in every Central Florida county and in dozens of cities and towns. Our plan is to contact each local government in the coming months that begins their meeting with a prayer, but for now we are focused on low-hanging fruit. We contacted those governments with prayers led by religious clergy as well as those that have a publicized invitation for clergy participation. We only contact localities where our members reside. However, we don’t need to have invocation-givers residing in the locality unless the policy or practice requires it. In other words, we need a legitimate claim that we should be included in the invocation practice.
With a strong contingent of humanist celebrants and a humanist chaplain in the Orlando area we have several ambassadors to choose from. Since the Town of Greece decision noted that anyone could perform the invocations, we were not limited to just those individuals. A list of humanist celebrants who are able to give invocations can be found at the Humanist Society website. If you are looking to draft your own secular invocation, check out the CFFC website where we have transcribed humanist invocations including word counts, durations, and videos going back ten years. Our recent local invocations are there as well.
With the help of attorneys Monica Miller at AHA’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center and Andrew Seidel at FFRF, we drafted a very effective request letter that you can use. Each government meeting is tracked on a spreadsheet with contact information so we can use a mail merge to quickly print letters and address envelopes. The letter was also sent attached to an email.
The first batch of about nineteen letters were sent in mid-May and at the time of this writing we have completed four invocations with seven more being scheduled. In some cases the “honor” of inviting someone for the invocation is shared and not assigned to a single person so our request was forwarded internally to each board member. We will be following up as needed and engaging attorneys in the process if we continue to be ignored.
So far, our invocations have been well received with good press coverage by local print and TV media. Each event is accompanied by a social event just before or after to make it a celebration in each area.
One word of caution: be sure you coordinate who will recite the Pledge of Allegiance ahead of time. No adult, and certainly no child, can be compelled to do this so consider passing that duty back to the board itself. Pledge activism may be a legitimate reason for not inviting you back, so think it through if you decide to engage in that.
Whatever your local organization’s goals this project is likely to help you achieve many of them. The effort required is minimal and the benefits are extremely long term. Being a featured guest at your local government meeting and offering an inclusive and inspirational secular reflection in stark contrast to the typical divisive prayers is a great way to make some sweet lemonade out of the tons of lemons the Supreme Court gave us this year.
“When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself;
and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it
so that its professors are obligated to call for help of the civil power,
it’s a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”
~ Benjamin Franklin ~