Tom Waddell, an atheist who runs the Freedom From Religion Foundation chapter in Maine, was scheduled to deliver the opening invocation in the State Senate this coming Tuesday. He gave one to the State House earlier this year, so there shouldn’t have been any complications.
But that won’t be happening anymore despite the fact that he got all the approval he needed. State Senator Shenna Bellows worked with him to make this happen, and the Secretary of the Senate approved the request.
Then things got weird.
He was told to “submit his remarks for review and approval” (which is both unconstitutional and something they never ask of religious speakers). His draft was then rejected on the basis of its content… something that also never applies to religious speakers.
What was so offensive? The full text of the invocation is below. You tell me. I’ve bold-faced the only parts that could even potentially be controversial.
Good morning. I am Tom Waddell, President of the Maine Chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Thank you all for the personal sacrifices each of you have made to be a member of the Maine Senate. Your personal commitment to Maine’s future is much appreciated. And thank you for the opportunity to give the first of many inspiring secular invocations to the Maine Senate.
Traditionally, invocations have served to encourage lawmakers to put aside political differences and, under the guidance of a”higher power,” work together for the common goal of making Maine a better place for all of its citizens. This secular invocations will be no different, but I will not ask you to bow your heads to a “higher power.” Instead, I ask you to look around at the learned men and women assembled here today, and rely on your collective character, honesty and integrity for guidance in making decisions that fulfill the intent of the Maine Constitution, specifically “to promote our common welfare.”
In the words of a Buddhist homily: “May (you) become at all times, both now and forever; A protector for those without protection; A guide for those who have lost their way; A ship for those with oceans to cross; A bridge for those with rivers to cross; A sanctuary for those in danger; A lamp for those without light; A place of refuge for those who lack shelter; And a servant to all those in need.”
On a scale from Christian Persecution in the U.S. to Christian Persecution in Saudi Arabia, this doesn’t even register.
There’s honestly nothing in there that’s anti-religious or offensive. At worst, he says people don’t have to bow their heads… but if they want to, anyway, that’s fine. In fact, much of his planned invocation to the Senate was identical to the one he delivered in the House — without controversy, I might add — though he had more time to elaborate in the House.
FFRF has no idea why Waddell was rejected like this and they want answers.
“Government officials cannot ‘act as supervisors and censors of religious speech’ because doing so ‘would involve government in religious matters to a far greater degree than … [either] editing or approving prayers in advance [or] criticizing their content after the fact,'” to quote the U.S. Supreme Court, FFRF Managing Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert writes to Maine Senate President Michael Thibodeau. “As a government official, you cannot dictate what is said or not said by prayer givers.”
If the Senate insists on continuing to host prayers at public meetings, it must not discriminate against any person wishing to give an invocation, FFRF asserts. The nonreligious and members of minority religions should be permitted to deliver invocations, as well.
FFRF insists that the Maine Senate immediately approve Waddell’s request and that he be invited back to give his remarks without delay.
“The Maine Senate is supposed to represent all citizens of the state,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It cannot act in an exclusionary manner toward a certain group of Mainers.”
As of this writing, there hasn’t been a response from the Maine Senate. Is this really something they want to fight about? The law is clearly on the side of FFRF. You’d think the elected officials would realize that.