Brian Fields of Pennsylvania Nonbelievers is a well-known leader in the nontheist and secular communities in Pennsylvania. He has written an excellent article about the reasons why he is a plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking to allow nontheists to deliver invocations before the Pennsylvania State House. Currently, only people of faith are permitted to give invocations, despite the fact that atheist, Humanist, and other nontheist leaders have given such invocations in city and state chambers nationwide.
The lawsuit will be the subject of an April 6, 2017 event in Philadelphia, DVAU/FS: Invoking Greece vs Galloway: Panel Discussion.
Learn more about the lawsuit here: http://au.org/content/equal-treatment-denied
Brian’s article was published on Americans United’s blog on February 21, 2017.
We’re not trying to get the House to end invocations before its daily sessions. A 2014 U.S. Supreme Court case, Town of Greece v. Galloway, confirms that governmental bodies have the right to open their meetings with prayers and invocations. But that same court decision says government cannot discriminate or have a bias against minority faiths when deciding who gives the invocations.
Nor are we trying to make all House invocations nontheistic. We’d just like to see our elected representatives and their opening invocations acknowledge the diversity of beliefs found in Pennsylvania – a commonwealth founded as a haven for religious dissenters.
Our research indicates that of the nearly 600 invocations given during state House sessions from January 2008 to February 2016, only one could be identified as associated with a religion other than Christianity, Judaism or Islam (it was a Native American prayer given by a Christian House member).
The secular prayers we’d offer would not disparage any religion. Invocations are meant to unite, not divide. They’re intended to solemnize a proceeding and to ask participants to be mindful of their responsibilities to the people as they make important decisions that impact us all.
Members of the House hear theistic invocations most days. All my colleagues and I are asking for is the same right to occasionally deliver non-theistic remarks. We seek nothing more than equal treatment, and I hope the court tomorrow understands that.