Just a little while ago, Kelly McCauley, an atheist and member of the North Alabama Freethought Association, delivered the first-ever secular invocation in front of the Huntsville City Council in Alabama.
I’m still waiting for video, but a rough transcript of his speech is below:
When the ancients considered the values that were proper and necessary for the good governance of a peaceful, productive society, they brought to our minds the virtues of wisdom, courage, justice, and moderation. These values have stood the test of time.
In more recent days, an American style of governance had led to approbation for newer enlightened values; we celebrate diversity, we enjoy protections of our freedoms in a Constitutional Republic, and we dearly value egalitarianism — equal protection of the law.
So now let us commence the affairs that are presented to our community. Let doubt and skepticism and inquiry be on our lookout when caution is the appropriate course. But also let innovation and boldness take point when opportunities for excellence appear on our horizon.
In this solemn discourse, let’s remember Jefferson’s words: “… that Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.”
Let it be so.
While this was the first invocation delivered by an atheist in the city, it wasn’t the first attempt of the sort by someone non-religious.
Earlier this year, resident Blake Kirk was given the chance to deliver one, but the offer was rescinded when it was discovered that he was a Wiccan. (City officials cited “community fears” as the reason for his rejection.)
In 2012, atheist Shannon Kish wanted to give an invocation but her multiple requests to the City Commission went unanswered, even after the Freedom From Religion Foundation got involved.
I asked Kish what she thought of McCauley giving this invocation and she told me (via email):
While I am disappointed that it took 2 years to see this happen, I am glad to see that Huntsville is beginning to embrace inclusivity by allowing someone with no religion to give the invocation at our city council meeting.
Ultimately, I hope to see Huntsville and surrounding cities choose to forego the practice of opening up government meetings with an invocation or prayer of any sort. I am hoping the lessons learned here are broader than allowing for the inclusion of all religions or non-religions and that they will help us to accept diversity in whatever form or fashion that it comes in.
On a side note, readers here must have crashed the poll about the invocation on Al.com, because the results were surprising enough to make for a story:
More than two-thirds of AL.com readers who responded to an online poll say atheists should be allowed to give the invocation at government meetings.
Somewhere, Christians are pretending they’re being persecuted.