What Do You Think Of This Invocation? June 6, 2011

What Do You Think Of This Invocation?

In Austin, Texas, State Rep. Donna Howard was invited to give the invocation address for the first day of the legislature’s special session on Tuesday, and she delivered something that, frankly, I’m surprised to hear coming out of that state.

It’s educational. It’s inclusive. It has a moment of silence, but maybe we can let that slide…

Check it out:

Joe Zamecki, the Texas State Director for American Atheists, writes:

Of course I don’t support a moment of silence, but this is a big step for a member of this particular legislative body. Several of the people in that room are packing heat every day they’re there! So Rep. Howard is a brave representative, and this is a refreshing change of pace.

What do you think?


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  • Gordon

    The fact that none of them shouted a prayer during the silence probably counts as progress.

    How low that bar is set!

  • bigjohn756

    As I watched this here at home, I sang the Hallelujah Chorus. Loud!

    Seriously, this was a refreshing departure from the usual Texan insistence on prayer to Jesus.

  • Spurs Fan

    As a Texan, I can say that Howard is fantastic. She recently won her re-election bid by a mere 12 votes, proving that she is politically courageous as well.

  • Andrew

    Honestly, I pretty much have no problem with this. Rep. Howard explained how observing a moment of silence in this scenario could fulfill a secular purpose.

    It’s a step in the right direction, at the very least.

  • tim

    What is the relevance of making the comment about “packing heat”? Is Zamecki really that stupid to think a legislator will open fire on another just because of what she says?

  • I think that if any invocation is to occur in the US, this is just about as ideal as one can expect. I feel no compulsion to complain about this or be irritated by it in any way. Yes, it is a couple of minutes essentially wasted, but I am not greatly worried about that. I think this is a great step in this discussion between the church/state crowd and the theocratic elements of our government. Thank you, Rep. Donna Howard!

  • tim,

    No actually it was really meant to just educate those who aren’t aware of that fact. It was a big news issue a few months ago, and the conservative Christians in that legislature made a big deal about how they have to be allowed to work while armed. Or be armed while working…lol

    I know it’s safe, it’s just eye-opening.

  • Jeff

    I think this is a great and I can live with it being this way. I hope more state governments adopt this.

  • crowepps

    I liked that very much — gutsy lady. Would advocate handing out her script to every legislature nationwide including the US Congress.

  • Wim

    She’s also quite funny in this short political ad:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCtW-PPDDqs

  • Jon Peterson

    You know what? That was excellent. She explained her role. She explained her purpose. She explained the legal qualifications for her action, and gave no sort of preference to any group or individual.

    I don’t find a moment of silence to be a negative thing in any way. When I was in the Boy Scouts (ages ago) we had a very liberal (relatively speaking) scoutmaster, and opened meetings with a moment of silence that was treated exactly as the representative describes in this video. I found it an excellent way to guide the meeting into a relaxed (and thus productive) state. It was a sharp contrast to the meetings we had at the patrol level (BSA 101: Troops are comparable to a country, and Patrols are comparable to states) which were utterly chaotic because we never gave them any sort of structure. The moment of silence wasn’t the only thing that helped the troop meetings, but it sure helped end the chaos and chatter from gathering and introduce us to that structure.

    Of course, we also didn’t have to have nearly two minutes of explanation first. We just opened with someone stating that the meeting was about to come to order and then asking “please join me in a moment of silence”.

  • I’m still new to this whole atheist thing (I’m still not sure what to call myself other than profoundly a-religious) so I’m not sure what it is exactly that is so offensive about a moment of silence. Can I get someone to explain the issue?

  • Mrs Chili – if it’s not offensive to you, then I don’t think you need to have it explained as being offensive!

    And though I’m NOT new to atheism, I don’t find it inappropriate either – it seems completely in the spirit of your 1st amendment rights and, having referred to and explained them briefly, I think demonstrating them immediately afterwards is a great thing!

    At my father’s humanist funeral, there was a moment of silence, during which some people almost certainly prayed. I didn’t care, and neither did any of the non-religious people there. It’s the FORCING of religiosity onto others which is wrong, not the fact that some people are religious.

    (Well, basically … I’d still prefer they WEREN’T religious, but you can’t have everything!)

  • I’m really curious to see how the Texan press reacts to this. I was there for two weeks in April and some of the things I read in the local Dallas paper just floored me. They have a very short legislative session, so the paper pays close attention to it. I assume they’ll pay as close attention to this special session.

  • Thanks, Adam. I thought maybe I was missing something…

  • Hey Joe, if ever given the chance, buy Rep. Howard a beer for me. I’ll hit you back for the cost!

    In all seriousness, I can’t fault any of that. It was downright refreshing. Oh and do click on the link Wim posted; the ad actually brought a smile to my face!

  • Vanessa

    yeah, seriously Hemant, what’s your problem with a moment of silence?

  • Mr Z

    whoa, hold up. Nobody seems to be getting what she really said. She asked the House to do EXACTLY what is required of children each day before they begin their studies. Say that to yourself slowly several times. It can be taken as ‘here, eat some crow’ or ‘damnit, even children can do this without arguing’ or ‘If you don’t like this, don’t make our children do it’ or ‘shut up and show us you can do what you demand our children do each school day’ or several other ways.

    It was a lesson, not an invocation! She was very clear about what she was doing, what she was requiring the members to do, and why, then she made them do so. That was not being inclusive at all, it was a lesson! The mention of children being forced to do the same is the soft side of ‘if you don’t do this without complaining, there will be repercussions’ talk.

    Congrats! She just spanked the theology out of the house for a couple minutes!!!

  • Synapse

    That’s Donna Howard, and she’s part of my local church – First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin (austinuu.org). Given our proximity to the university (UT), we have quite a few folks who are atheist or agnostic.

    CFI frequently has materials and reps present at various events, and the Secular Coalition for America has used our facility and may host training for starting a Texas division here.

  • Bones

    As a Texan I give that a thumbs up.

  • ftl

    @Mrs. Chili –

    “Moments of silence” CAN be offensive because often, “moment of silence” is a code word for “the speaker will lead the room in prayer, but call it a moment of silence so we don’t get sued.”

    When a moment of silence really is what it says on the tin – a moment of silence, with all attendees free to use it as they see fit, maybe with their own prayer or maybe not – that’s great! It’s just that there’ve been plenty of instances of people renaming “and now we’ll have a prayer” to “now we’ll have a moment of silence” with few or no other changes to the ceremony to go along with it, which is why “moment of silence” sometimes gets somewhat of a reaction from atheists.

    This one seemed fine though.

  • Rickster

    That was awesome. I have no problem at all with the moment of silence because of how she set it up. It wasn’t one of those “wink wink” moments where everyone knows it’s meant to be a pray time disguised as something for legal purposes. She set up the moment of silence as a time to reflect and prepare to do their jobs. For some that meant prayer. Others meditation or visualization. I like to think about if Al Hrabosky (the Mad Hungarian pitcher from the 70s) were in there he’d have turned his back to the group with his head down, rubbing a baseball during that time, and then spun around while pounding the ball in his glove, ready to come out and legislate!

  • Douglas Kirk

    @Mrs Chili,

    Some atheists tend to have problems with moments of silence not only because, lke the other commentors have said, people often use it to pray out loud anyway (a legal problem) or act dismissive toward anyone who’s not folding their hadns and bowing their heads (a problem, but not a legal problem), but also because most of the legislature for a moment of silence oversteps its bounds.

    The grand majority of “moment of silence” bills specify a moment of silence for prayer, or even this moment (the most inclusive one I’ve ever heard and i love the representative for doing it!) say it’s a moment of silence for prayer or meditation or reflection or whatever silent activity when the specification for prayer is completely unnecessary and, quite frankly, gives the unnecessary appearance that the government is endorsing prayer. It would be just as easy to have a “moment of silence for whatever silent activity you would like to partake.”

  • Steve

    For me a “moment of silence” is something you do when you mourn. For example when a tragedy happened or an official remembrance of a tragedy in the past.

    In the US it’s just another way to pray at any occasion.

  • Hugh

    Many Arizona leglislators pack heat and are batshit crazy. I wouldn’t put it past them to open fire on someone who wasn’t being Jesus-y enough.

  • Freemage

    Is there a transcript of the video? I often blogread with the sound off….

  • Clint

    I’ve met Donna Howard, and yes, she’s that cool in person. I’m sending this thread to a friend of mine who can forward it to her.