Last year, Tom Waddell, an atheist who runs the Freedom From Religion Foundation chapter in Maine, delivered an opening invocation in the State House. You would think, then, that doing the same thing in the State Senate wouldn’t have been a problem… but that wasn’t the case.
Even though he had the sponsorship he needed, courtesy of State Senator Shenna Bellows (who also happened to be the former executive director of the ACLU of Maine), and the approval of the Secretary of the Senate, things got weird when his speech was on the schedule.
He was told to “submit his remarks for review and approval” (which was both unconstitutional and something never asked of religious speakers). His draft was later rejected on the basis of its content… something that also never happens with religious speakers. And it’s not like he said anything offensive in he invocation. Here’s the most controversial part of his prepared remarks:
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.”
Yesterday morning, after an unjustified wait of several months, Waddell was finally permitted to give an invocation in the State Senate. (You can see it here at the 10:01:52 mark.)
I’m not sure why they suddenly let him speak after creating a series of hurdles that he and he alone had to overcome, but it’s clear from the news coverage that there was no good reason to prevent him from speaking.
He urged them “to rely on and trust in the collective character, honesty and integrity of your colleagues,” before reading quotations by Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams and thanking the lawmakers for their sacrifice.
Bellows also expressed disappointment that more senators were not able to hear Waddell’s invocation, as Senate President Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, convened the daily proceedings more quickly than usual on Thursday.
Because of that, most senators hadn’t arrived by the time Waddell delivered his remarks.
So even when the atheist’s speech was completely innocuous, a Republican found a way to rush the event so that most elected officials wouldn’t be around to hear it. I’m not surprised at all.
Here’s the text of Waddell’s speech that Thibodeau wasn’t eager for anyone to hear:
Good morning. I am Tom Waddell. I’m the president of the Maine Chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. We suppose everyone’s religious freedom by advocating for separation of church and state.
As you fulfill the Senate’s solemn responsibility of making decisions that will affect everyone living here in Maine, I urge you to rely on and trust in the collective character, honesty, integrity of your colleagues for guidance today and every day.
The wisdom of our Founding Fathers have much to rely on as well. I would like to invoke the words of two American presidents. Thomas Jefferson reminds us that the purpose of government is to enable the people of our nation or state to live in safety and happiness. “Government exists for the interests of the governed, not for the governors.” And John Quincy Adams inspires us with, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”
Thank you for your sacrifices, each of you have made to be a member of the Maine Senate. We, the people of Maine, appreciate and rely on your collective wisdom and the personal commitments you have made to Maine’s future.
It took nearly a year before Waddell could say those words because some Christians just can’t handle an atheist providing inspiration at the start of a legislative session.
(Thanks to Brian for the link)