A New Civic Duty for Patriotic Secularists: Offering An “Invocation” at a Government Meeting Near You


There are many days that will “live in infamy” (FDR), alongside December 7, 1941. Just two obvious examples are November 22, 1963 and September 11, 2001. Most people would have several days in history to volunteer for inclusion in the infamy files if asked by pollsters for nominations, depending upon their politics, loyalties and passions. If asked, I would list May 5, 2014 for inclusion as a date to “live in infamy.”

That’s the day the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the “Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway” (case # 12-696, 2014 WL 1757828) that it is constitutional for city and county governments to host prayers at official meetings. The decision was 5 in favor, four against - yet another narrow decision by the ultra-conservative panel of avid Roman Catholic justices.

Someday, a secular Supreme Court will override this dreadful decision. Our Constitution is godless. It is not hostile or friendly to religion - it is simply neutral. Our Founders met centuries ago at a constitutional convention that included no prayers. A separation was established in the Constitution between religions and governments at all levels. This was deliberate - they knew from their experience in Europe that religious matters, such as prayers, are divisive and offensive to those who do not want to be governed by or exposed to religious dogmas or rituals that are different from their own religious beliefs, or absence of such beliefs. Freedom from is as important as freedom of religions - and these two freedoms require governments free from entanglements in religious differences, which are legion. Yet today, politicians and other influential agents enthused with their own church-based sensibilities have introduced, at every level of government, elements of religiosity. Consider this partial list of areas of violations of strict separation between church and state:

Religion in Public Schools and Universities (e.g.., creationism, school prayer, bibles and religious texts in curricula, student religious clubs,  religious distributions, music, pledge of allegiance, displays, events and evangelism during the school day and use of facilities by church groups).

  • Faith-Based Programs and Other Government Subsidies of Religious Institutions and Service Providers (other than schools)
  • Tax Exemptions for Churches and Clergy.
  • School Vouchers & Government Subsidies of Religious Schools.
  • Official Prayer, Religious Displays & Ceremonial Religion (prayer at government events and legislative meetings, religious displays on public property, religious mottos, pledges and resolutions.
  • Government Sanctioned Discrimination, Religious Exemptions (including in the military, prisons, housing, healthcare facilities, etc).
  • Groups’ Involvement in Candidate Elections, Ballot Initiatives (lobbying by religious interests, U.S.-Vatican diplomatic relations).
  • Marriage, Reproductive Justice & Other Privacy Issues

A Course of Action

These violations will not cease due to the good will of the aggressively Christian and other religious elements. Secular Americans will have to make their desire for adherence to separation of religion and government at every level of government and in social and other interactions. Not confrontational but constructive, clearly demonstrating that not everyone goes along with the steady drift toward theocracy. We all need to step forward and artfully lend support for secular rights, all of which are guaranteed by our Constitution. 

This requires, as a first step, that we become educated about the nature of separation of church and state. Local officials must be reminded that they may not use their authority, public funds or government property to promote religion, despite the fact that the majority presently approves of religious intrusions. School administrators and teachers also can be led to recognize that public schools are not there to promote religious pedagogy but rather should be communicating about American democracy.

Invocations Are Us

The “Greece/Galloway” decision has energized many secularists to actively resist further Christian incursions into public life - and to do more about those that are already in place. To foster specific protest about government prayer, the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) has designed a contest, the purpose of which is to show that “government prayers are unnecessary, ineffective, embarrassing, exclusionary, divisive or just plain silly.” The thinking is that if more citizens protest prayers, it is more likely that they will stop sooner rather than later.

Anyone interested in the contest need only sign up or otherwise gain a chance to appear at a council meeting or other government functions and deliver a secular, instructive “invocation.” The next step is to send a video of the event to FFRF. There will be a prize given once each year, but the idea is to educate everyone about why we have, or should protect what we are entitled to have, namely, separation of church and state. The grand (and only) prize will be a “Nothing Fails Like Prayer” award for the best of the secular "invocations" delivered at official government meetings.

The annual winner or winners will be given a commemorative plaque along with a check for $500. In addition, the winner will be invited, all expenses paid, to deliver the winning “invocation” at FFRF's annual convention. The slogan for the contest seems to be this: “Be a Paine in the government's Mass — a Thomas Paine.” I like that very much.

The annual contest will be terminated when the Greece decision is overturned. For further details about and tips for winning, contact FFRF at nothingfailslikeprayer@ffrf.org or write to FFRF at “Nothing Fails Like Prayer Contest,” c/o FFRF, PO Box 750, Madison WI 53701.

Good luck. Giving an invocation is a REAL wellness act of freedom seeking and a patriotic thing to do. If you are planning to do such a thing, I thank you for your service.