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Atheist gets her day at the Supreme Court
November 1st, 2013
04:39 PM ET

Atheist gets her day at the Supreme Court

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer

(CNN)– Linda Stephens has lived in her upstate New York community for more than three decades and has long been active in civic affairs.

But as an atheist, those views have put her at the center of a personal, political, and legal fight that has reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

The issue is public prayer at her local town board meetings, another contentious case over the intersection of faith and the civic arena.

The justices on Wednesday will hear arguments over whether Greece, New York, may continue sponsoring what it calls "inclusive" prayers at its open sessions, on government property.

Stephens and co-plaintiff Susan Galloway have challenged the policy, saying virtually all of those invited to offer legislative prayers over the years were Christians.

"It's very divisive when you bring government into religion," Stephens told CNN from her home.

"I don't believe in God, and Susan is Jewish, so to hear these ministers talk about Jesus and even have some of them who personally question our motives, it's just not appropriate."

The town of about 94,000 residents counters that after concerns from the two women and others, it sought diverse voices, including a Wiccan priestess, to offer invocations. Officials say they do not review the content of the remarks, nor censor any language.

"The faith of the prayer giver does not matter at all," said John Auberger, Greece's board supervisor, who began the practice shortly after taking office 1998. "We accept anyone who wants to come in and volunteer to give the prayer to open up our town meetings."

A federal appeals court in New York found the board's policy to be an unconstitutional violation of the Constitution's Establishment Clause, which forbids any government "endorsement" of religion.

Those judges said it had the effect of "affiliating the town with Christianity."

"To the extent that the state cannot make demands regarding the content of legislative prayers," said Judge Guido Calabresi, "municipalities have few means to forestall the prayer-giver who cannot resist the urge to proselytize. These difficulties may well prompt municipalities to pause and think carefully before adopting legislative prayer, but they are not grounds on which to preclude its practice."

Some legal experts say while the high court has allowed public prayers in general, it has not set boundaries on when they might become too sectarian in nature.

"The case involves a test between two different kinds of legal rules," said Thomas Goldstein, SCOTUSblog.com publisher and a leading Washington attorney.

"The Supreme Court has broadly approved legislative prayer without asking too many questions. But in other cases where the government is involved with religion, it has looked at lots of different circumstances. So we just don't know whether this court will be completely approving of legislative prayers in this instance."

The justices are now being asked to offer more firm guidelines over when and if such public prayers are constitutionally acceptable.

Felt marginalized

Galloway and Stephens say the elected board of the community outside Rochester almost always invited Christian clergy to open the meetings, usually with sectarian prayers. And they say they felt "marginalized" by the practice.

"When we tried to speak with the town, we were told basically if we didn't like the prayers, we didn't have to listen," said Stephens, "or could stand out in the hallway while they were going on."

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Washington-based group that is representing the two women, cited records showing that between 1999 and 2010, approximately two-thirds of the invocations contained the words "Jesus Christ," Jesus," Holy Spirit," or "Your Son."

And the lawsuit claims that from 1999 through 2007, every meeting had a Christian-only invocation. Following the complaints from the plaintiffs, four other faiths were invited in 2008, including a Baha'i leader and a Jewish lay person.

The plaintiffs say the Christian-only invocations resumed from January 2009 through June 2010. They claim those invited to the monthly meetings were selected by a city employee from a local guide that had no non-Christian faiths listed.

"Politics and religion simply don't mix, and they certainly don't mix in the local context of the Greece town council," said the Rev. Barry Lynn, AUSCS executive director.

"The town seems to take the position that because once or twice over a decade, it hears from someone of a different religion, that somehow is inclusive. It trivializes what's going here - a local government that should be willing and interested in participation of all its citizens, it wants those citizens to participate in an almost inevitably Christian prayer, in order to begin doing their business."

Different rulings

While the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New York last year unanimously ruled against Greece's policy, other courts around the country have found such invocations - if inclusive and limited in scope - to be permissible.

Congress regularly opens its sessions with a prayer. Wednesday's invocation by House Chaplain the Rev. Patrick Conroy began: "Eternal God, we give you thanks for giving us another day. Once again, we come to ask wisdom, patience, peace, and understanding for the members of this people's House."

Nearly 120 members of Congress, mostly Republicans, along with several state attorneys general have filed supporting legal briefs backing the city. So has the Obama administration.

"The history of prayers offered in connection with legislative deliberation in this country makes clear that a legislative body need not affirmatively solicit a court-mandated variety of different religious faiths– from inside and outside the borders governed by the legislative body– in order to avoid running afoul of the Establishment Clause," said Justice Department lawyers' in their amicus brief.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal ministry based in Scottsdale, Arizona, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Greece Town Board, saying the Supreme Court has upheld the practice of government bodies "to acknowledge America's religious heritage and invoke divine guidance and blessings upon their work."

"A few people should not be able to extinguish the traditions of our nation merely because they heard something they didn't like," said Brett Harvey, an attorney for the group. "Because the authors of the Constitution invoked God's blessing on public proceedings, this tradition shouldn't suddenly be deemed unconstitutional."

Stephens realizes the stakes are high for her community and for the law as a whole. But on a personal level, this legal fight has been tough.

"I've received something of a backlash, both Susan and me," the retired librarian said. "Threatening letters, some vandalism to my property, things like that. The prayers, and all the controversy, it makes you feel like an outcast, like we don't count in our town."

The case is Town of Greece, N.Y. v. Galloway (12-696). A ruling is expected by early summer.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Christianity • Church and state • Courts

soundoff (6,237 Responses)
  1. Colin

    EXTRACT FROM A BOOK ON THE HISTORY OF THE USA PUBLISHED 100 YEARS FROM NOW

    “…but even more startling than the standoff between Republicans and Democrats that brought the country to a regular standstills, was the popularity of Greco Roman Jewish mythology in the early 21st Century USA. This was a point in our history where we had totally tamed nature, put a man on the moon, understood the inner workings of the atom and peered into the most distant reaches of the Universe. And yet, a large part of the country still believed that a Jewish prophet from 2,100 years ago rose from the dead, was part of a “god” that created the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies and would cause them to live on after they died in a mythological place called “Heaven,” provided they obey some rules laid down in Bronze Age Palestine.

    Even more peculiar, people who DID NOT believe this were seen as a little odd, were labeled “atheists,” and were viewed with a jaundiced eye by the “Christians” who clung to this mythology. Often, atheists would be forced to go to court to prevent the Christians from passing laws based on their mythology or otherwise imposing it on the population. This is quite astounding for a period in our history when we were, otherwise, quite advanced!

    Fortunately, as with views on h.omo$exuality in the early 21st Century, the tide turned quickly, and by the late 21st Century, Christianity had became confined to a few poor, rural pockets of the country where education was not readily accessible.”

    November 2, 2013 at 7:47 pm |
  2. DC

    Other than getting offended by dull references to religion, what do Atheists believe in exactly?

    November 2, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
    • Severe PTSD as a result of ra-pe by clergy

      human life.. Caring for children without brainwashing with scare tactics as painful third degree burns from a hell with ugly monsters.

      November 2, 2013 at 7:43 pm |
      • Scott

        Human life? LOLOLOLOL. How does abortions define human life?

        November 2, 2013 at 7:51 pm |
        • FreeFromTheism

          choice for women is part of their life and if one has a right to anything it is to their own bodies
          take that away, and what do you have left?

          November 2, 2013 at 7:57 pm |
        • doobzz

          The vast majority of women who get abortions in the USA are Christian women.

          November 2, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
        • Big Willz

          doobzz: proof please?

          November 2, 2013 at 11:31 pm |
        • Observer

          Big Willz,

          Christians constantly claim that they are the VAST MAJORITY of Americans. Most of them pretend the Bible actually mentions abortion.

          November 2, 2013 at 11:35 pm |
        • Big Willz

          Observer,

          So I guess that is a no on there being proof? It isn't really fair since you are the person posting it several places on the board. I was serious in asking where the data was out of curiosity not to pick an argument.

          You are right that the Bible doesn't mention abortion. Christians who are against abortion believe the fetus is a life and view extinguishing the life as being wrong. But you are right, abortion is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible. I can understand why people disagree.

          Taking religion out of it, with the advancement of technology premature babies are able to survive earlier and earlier. I have trouble figuring out where the line should be if religion is out of the picture. If a baby can survive at 6 months with assistance from a hospital is abortion wrong after 6 months from an ethical standpoint? I know this is way off topic. No need to answer

          November 3, 2013 at 12:36 am |
        • Big Willz

          sorry should say you AREN'T the one posting

          November 3, 2013 at 12:37 am |
    • Atheist

      Science, facts, evolution, truth....

      November 2, 2013 at 7:45 pm |
      • Severe PTSD as a result of ra-pe by clergy

        it is rather odd that christians teach their children to lie.. after all they can prove nothing. Not a good example for children.

        November 2, 2013 at 7:47 pm |
        • Edwin

          I am an atheist but I dispute your analysis. The non-existence of God is literally as impossible to prove as the existence of God. The only reason one position seems more logical to you is because it happens to be the one you believe.

          I do not believe in God – I think the notion of a divine being is silly and at odds with the model of the universe I think makes the most sense. But I also know that there is no possible way to prove the basic tenets of my faith (that the universe is modeled by principles that are understandable by humans, that the laws of the universe are predictable and testable, and that no intelligent designer is needed to explain the model).

          November 2, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
        • G to the T

          I would argue that "faith" isn't the right word for much of what you use as examples. These things can be independantly confirmed by others and/or are confirmed through repeated experiment. "Belief" (which implies conditional status) is probably a better usage.

          November 6, 2013 at 10:51 am |
    • a reasonable atheist

      Atheism is a statement of non-belief in god(s). There are no beliefs toed to it.

      November 2, 2013 at 7:46 pm |
      • a reasonable atheist

        tied*

        November 2, 2013 at 7:47 pm |
        • Edwin

          Non-belief is the belief that no Gods exist. To deny the existence of deities IS a belief. If you study mathematical logic you will understand my point better.

          Atheism is in no way a religion nor even a 'belief system' (I would use the word theology but it obviously seems a bit off). There are as many types of atheists as there are types of Christians or types of Muslims or Jews or Hindus or any other metaphysical identifier. Indeed, many atheists are actually religious, though that conversation rapidly gets complicated.

          November 2, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
        • a reasonable atheist

          Cue the cliche reel: Is "not collecting stamps" a hobby? Is "bald" a hair color? Is "abstinence" a position used to engage in coitus? Are people who don't believe in unicorns members of the "aunicornist" religion? And so forth ad nauseam...

          Not believing an idea (somebody's version of god(s)) is not a belief. You seem to be conflating the statements "I don't believe in god(s)." and "There is(are) no god(s)." with one another. They are different. When surveyed, nearly all participants who identify as atheist, agree with the former, but only about 20% agree with the latter. This has led to the notions of so-called "weak" and "strong" atheism, or put another way, "agnostic" and "gnostic" atheism.

          Atheism is a statement of a lack of belief. Some atheists, a minority, choose to take it a step further and state disbelief.

          Regarding mathematics and logic, I assure you that I have studied both subjects extensively.

          November 2, 2013 at 11:48 pm |
    • One one

      Everything except for the existence of a magic man in the sky.

      November 2, 2013 at 7:46 pm |
    • Sonia

      Something people like you cannot appreciate – FREEDOM.

      November 2, 2013 at 7:50 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      A better and sustainable lifestyle for people all over the world. Helping right the amazing wrongs done by people up to now. Better education for everyone. Equal recourse to the law for everyone.

      November 2, 2013 at 7:51 pm |
    • Scott

      Atheists are the boys and girls that didn't have a lot of friends growing up. they don't like organizations that have collective compassion, respect for authority, and love for their fellow human beings such as their neighbors, co-workers, family members, etc. They all have a common denominator; angry, small-minded, and hate life. It's a shame to waste the only life one has on such anger and trivial matters such as showing disdain for religion.

      November 2, 2013 at 7:54 pm |
      • FreeFromTheism

        is that what they're teaching in church these days?

        November 2, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
      • doobzz

        Did your pastor feed you that bunch of lies or are you making them up all on your own?

        November 2, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
      • corridorwatcher

        Where did you get that load of crap?

        November 2, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
      • Jon

        Not bad, but you should try to be more subtle with your trolling, it'll let you string the respondents out longer. Still, not a bad early effort, 7 of 10 stars, but you have room for improvement.

        Also, you should try citing Wikipedia or some religious site to bolster your mock arguments – that makes them waste time looking up stuff to counter you while you go on to trolling the next rube.

        Good luck,

        Your friend in Christ,
        Jon

        November 2, 2013 at 8:28 pm |
      • redlace

        ad hominem. not a valid argument

        November 2, 2013 at 9:24 pm |
    • Answer

      @DC

      ==quote==

      what do Atheists believe in exactly?

      ==end==

      In three words: "Exactly like you."

      Exception: we aren't dead in the head like you.

      You already have a preconceived notion that "you atheists are amoral."
      What you are doing by trying to ask "what do you believe in?" is in fact searching for the higher ground that you have been indoctrinated to take.

      You "the christian" freak want a confirmation bias that what you and your preacher have confirmed to each other is true. You don't want to accept that as an atheist we have ideals, morals and can love you "freaks" although your delusions take you too far from reality.

      Question yourself as to the "real" prejudice that is deep down your own thinking. That is "what" you are really after.

      ~~ "Am I better than those atheists that I pretend that my religious nature has me thinking about them."

      November 2, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
    • californiafats

      believe they are the most powerful and important things that ever walked. nothing is smarter or more in depth to the reality of the world!

      November 2, 2013 at 8:26 pm |
    • kenny

      the golden rule... it applies to every decision you make whether you know it or not. It applies with other people and the natural world around you. It is somewhat difficult to understand... until you think about it. All rules of man and religion are based in it... ALL OF THEM... it is hard wired into our instinct...

      November 2, 2013 at 8:42 pm |
  3. christian fai

    It is a matter of what kind of freedom should prevail. Militant atheists wish to be free of hearing any idea where God is invoked to help us. On the other hand, people who pray wish to exercise their freedom to ask God's help through a collective prayer in their earthly affairs. This is the question: Is one freedom better than the other? If history is a good indicator, atheists have manipulated the courts in prescribing that atheists should have real freedom in promoting their ideas that there is not God and that we should not have any business in requesting His assistance in anything while believers in God should not have any kind of freedom of just doing the opposite. According to atheists, the idea of God's existence and His ability to help us in our daily affairs, if we request Him to do so, should never be included in the "free market of ideas" regarding how humans should deal whenever they interact when trying to make this a better world. Militant atheists feel that they are "marginalized" if someone makes a prayer when they are present in a public event. Moreover, they feel free to marginalize those who wish to exercise their faith in public. Do we really need this kind of double standard?

    November 2, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
    • Severe PTSD as a result of ra-pe by clergy

      your god is missing..your god became tired on the seventh day and rested instead of cleaning up his mess,, meteors and all. Not a perfect god.

      If that hasn't got man written all over it.

      November 2, 2013 at 7:46 pm |
    • Scott

      The United States is a free country. I could care less what an atheist thinks and don't care. It's my right to worship freely and openly in public, private, public schools, government buildings, you name its my right. They wont' stop me or others, so they need to shut up and deal with it. The world does not revolve around their small-minded views. After 200+ years, this country is not going to shudder under some new "fad" just because these folks have the internet to boast their views. Each one is a legend in their own mind. A rebel without a clue.

      November 2, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
      • doobzz

        Poor persecuted Christian has to share the world with others. Boo hoo.

        November 2, 2013 at 8:12 pm |
      • Colin

        Scott, you said, "It's my right to worship freely and openly in public, private, public schools, government buildings, you name its my right." That is correct, but it is hardly the issue before the court. The issue is a GOVERNMENT ENTI.TY doing so. Very different.

        This is not hard stuff.

        November 2, 2013 at 8:16 pm |
      • lksdjflkj

        " I could care less what an atheist thinks and don't care."

        Let me help you some, since you obviously fail at logic. By saying you could care less, that means you care some amount about what an atheist thinks. So, the above sentence states 'i care about what an atheist thinks and don't care'. What you meant to say was 'I couldn't care less what an atheist thinks." But, you obviously do since you are replying to them in this discussion.

        For the record I'm not an atheist, I'm agnostic. I don't believe in any magic man in the sky, but i cant prove they don't exist. I respect freedom of religion, and if people want to believe in those magic man, they are free to. As long as they don't try to force their beliefs on me.

        There are however no organized religions i respect. Too many archaic beliefs, and abuse of women or children, or races, etc. However, there are spiritual organizations i respect, such as certain Native American beliefs and Buddhism, the short list that believe in the respect of life/nature. I have no problems with these spiritual belief groups. I am neither a Buddhist nor a native american, but i respect, the respect of life/nature.

        November 2, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
      • HotAirAce

        The US Supreme Court has consistently ruled that you have the right to *believe* whatever you want but *not* the right to *practice* however, wherever, whenever you want. Why can't believers grasp this simple fact and distinction?

        November 2, 2013 at 9:01 pm |
      • Deus Ibi Est

        Excellent post Scott! The sad part is that the atheists and bigots on here can't see anything beyond their blind hatred of the God who loves them in spite of themselves.
        They worship themselves, and like to reduce man to animal status thinking that THAT will save them. Eternity is a long time and we ALL have the same opportunities to be with God forever .
        The wonderful gifts we get from God are lost on them because they can't or won't see them; and that's sad.

        November 2, 2013 at 9:02 pm |
        • Observer

          Deus Ibi Est

          "The sad part is that the atheists and bigots on here can't see anything beyond their blind hatred of the God"

          Congratulations. That is likely the most thoughtless comment of this blog.

          NO atheist EVER hated God. Do you hate Lex Luthor for trying to kill Superman?

          Get serious. Get logical.

          November 2, 2013 at 9:05 pm |
        • berryrat

          So many gods, so many creeds
          So many paths that wind and wind
          While just the art of being kind
          Is all the sad world needs.
          –Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “The World’s Need”

          November 2, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
    • corridorwatcher

      You can practice your religion in a church or temple. Your freedoms are not infringed upon because someone does not say a prayer, (which has scientifically been shown not to work, historically shown not to work,( see the holocaust, unless Jews were praying to the wrong god), and daily shown not to work in hospitals everyday), during an official public meeting. I, an atheist, simply do not believe in any god, demon, fairy or in invisible pink unicorns. How would you react if you went to a city council meeting that started with a prayer to the flying spaghetti monster or to satan for wiccans’ sake? The same way I would, -with righteous indignation. Double standard? OMG……

      November 2, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
      • christian fai

        "How would you react if you went to a city council meeting that started with a prayer to the flying spaghetti monster or to satan for wiccans’ sake? The same way I would, -with righteous indignation. Double standard? OMG……"

        If a council meeting started with a prayer to the flying spaghetti monster or to Satan I would not feel offended if I don't believe that they exist. I would just feel amused. If I believed that they are real and that they are the real enemies of the cookie monster I wish to believe in, then I would feel very upset. The point is this: Atheists don't have any moral basis to suppress faith in God through the power of courts set up by the government when they don't really believe that such God is real. However, if they wish to close all avenues so they and other people never learn to think about God then I could understand where atheists are really coming from.

        November 2, 2013 at 8:38 pm |
        • corridorwatcher

          If I have no moral basis, then neither do you. If you are a Christian, have you ever read the bible?

          November 2, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
        • christian fai

          "If I have no moral basis, then neither do you. If you are a Christian, have you ever read the bible?"

          There is not moral basis for using the court either to suppress a belief or a lack of belief in God or to use the courts in order to promote belief in God or belief in atheism. However, militant atheists are using the courts in order establish what they wish. They cannot believe in the God of the Bible having the ability to interact with a thinking person in order to tell others: "Come now, let us reason together..." Isaiah 1:18. Therefore, their only recourse is to use the courts when their reasoning power has failed to convince others of what they believe in.

          November 2, 2013 at 8:58 pm |
        • corridorwatcher

          Again, have you read the Bible? Guess not or you would have learned the decadence contained within. BTW stoned anyone lately?

          November 2, 2013 at 10:26 pm |
        • christian fai

          Again, have you read the Bible? Guess not or you would have learned the decadence contained within. BTW stoned anyone lately?

          Yes, I have read in the Bible, "All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!" Regretfully, I have read of many people who believe that Jesus is a fairy tale who don't believe of stoning people but believe in shooting them.

          November 2, 2013 at 10:46 pm |
        • G to the T

          Not sure I get your point. This isn't a matter of morality, this is a civil issue. It's a matter of government (which should represent everyone) versus religious belief (which is personal). It's in everyone's best interest (especially christians) that the government be neutral in all matters religious.

          November 6, 2013 at 11:17 am |
      • Deus Ibi Est

        So take the President to court -- HE starts the morning briefing with a prayer!!!!!

        November 2, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
        • corridorwatcher

          That doesn't make it right, and I don't fall for arguments from authority.

          November 2, 2013 at 8:58 pm |
        • Observer

          The religious appearance of many presidents can be different than their personal ideas. They have little choice if they want to be elected. Read history.

          November 2, 2013 at 8:58 pm |
        • HotAirAce

          I sincerely hope this is the path we are on – no religion in government ever!

          November 2, 2013 at 9:47 pm |
      • berryrat

        I'm a Wiccan. We do not believe in Satan, that is another religion's thing. We are a peaceful nature-based religion. See why religion doesn't belong in government? Most people don't know the first thing about other people's religion.

        November 2, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
    • SmartPotato

      You're missing the whole point here: PRAY ON YOUR OWN TIME, NOT in our educational, judicial, or political affairs. What is not to understand here? Are you THAT dense?

      November 2, 2013 at 8:54 pm |
      • christian fai

        "You're missing the whole point here: PRAY ON YOUR OWN TIME, NOT in our educational, judicial, or political affairs. What is not to understand here? Are you THAT dense?"

        Unfortunately, you do not understand that people truly believing in God also believe that their time is God's time and that the best way to avoid counter-productive outcomes in the educational, judicial and political affairs of people is by inviting Him in all the affairs we need to get involved in. Now, if you say that you don't believe that God exists, then you have a right to say so and to prove others why you are right; however, you have no moral basis to feel annoyed when someone brings in the presence of a non-existent God through prayer.

        November 2, 2013 at 9:18 pm |
        • berryrat

          Which god? There are many.

          November 2, 2013 at 9:46 pm |
        • christian fai

          "Which god? There are many"

          So we move from the non existence of God to the existence of many gods. This is something that you have to take up in person with anyone requested to pray who believes in prayer as a means to improve people's ability to think better or to reach a common agreement.

          November 2, 2013 at 10:59 pm |
  4. Mike in SA

    Poor girls having to be subject to words they don't like. That NEVER happens to other people. Maybe they should just claim they are being "bullied"...that should work right off the bat.

    November 2, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
    • Severe PTSD as a result of ra-pe by clergy

      yeah.. after all, we look so brilliant with voodoo christian beliefs

      November 2, 2013 at 7:49 pm |
      • Atheism=Nazi

        The clergy that r a p e d you was a gay pedophile. So don't unleash your anger against any other kind of people but them.

        November 2, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
        • corridorwatcher

          Why do you think gay pedophiles get into the clergy....duh!

          November 2, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
        • Observer

          Atheism=Nazi,

          Congratulations. Your choice of a handle gives a very good idea of your IQ. Thank you, but don't brag to anyone about it.

          November 2, 2013 at 8:18 pm |
    • Deus Ibi Est

      @ Mike – thank you for being the voice of sanity among all these bigots and uneducated people. God bless!

      November 2, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
  5. Severe PTSD as a result of ra-pe by clergy

    Bibles already been proven as wrong and simple full of man created concoctions,, by archeologists.

    November 2, 2013 at 7:35 pm |
  6. Robert Brown

    The historical context of the freedom of religion and the prohibition against government establishment of religion is important. If you went against the official church you were killed. Being politically correct or removing all references to God wasn't really involved. The debate revolved more around preventing a particular denomination from becoming the official one.

    November 2, 2013 at 7:26 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Of course we have to live with their work today, Robert. Several of the founders of the United States were not religious, were deeply skeptical of religion as many of us are today. If we are about guessing their intentions, I think they would agree that there should be no place in the institutions of government for religious practices or endorsement of religion.

      November 2, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
      • Robert Brown

        Do you think prayer at a government meeting is an endorsement of religion? Is it the same as establishing a religion?

        Do you think what this governing body in the article is doing is illegal, or do you just find it offensive personally?

        November 2, 2013 at 7:50 pm |
      • Tom, Tom, the Other One

        In truth, I've seen it often enough that it does not offend me. I do believe it is inconsistent with the Constitution. I don't know if the Court will find it so.

        November 2, 2013 at 7:53 pm |
  7. UriNation

    Bring a few gays and abortion recipients with you for support.

    November 2, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
    • Maddy

      Whereas you can bring all of your bigoted, misogynist friends to help argue your "Christian" values.

      November 2, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
    • doobzz

      Good idea. I'll go to the nearest Christian churches to find the abortion recipients. Christian women get the vast majority of abortions in the USA.

      November 2, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
      • Big Willz

        Proof?

        November 2, 2013 at 11:35 pm |
        • doobzz

          http://www.guttmacher.org/in-the-know/characteristics.html

          November 15, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
  8. Rick

    What is with people trying to prove that their way is the "right" way? I too am atheist but I don't flaunt it. I would never push atheism on anyone and who am I to tell people that believe that they are wrong? If they want to believe, that is their business. If I don't want to believe, that is my business. If there is a public prayer, I don't get upset and am respectful of people who want to pray. Why do people need to get offended? Come on people, show some respect for others.

    November 2, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
    • Answer

      "Come on people, show some respect for others."

      -Get real. Post your list of people that you have respect for.

      I bet you you can only go so far and then come to a rational conclusion that some people do not deserve an ounce of respect for the views and stupid positions that they want you to adhere to. It all boils down to looking at what agenda that such people want to infect upon society: like establishing a theocracy.

      Get a clue as to where you see the real fight. Don't come and gloss over "I can be friendly and so should you."

      Go fucking take a stand.

      November 2, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
      • justageek

        So showing a little compassion for both sides is not a stand? Do you have to have a far right or far left side on everything?

        November 2, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
        • Answer

          Of course... I can be at both sides.

          I can defend your right to have a delusional god while telling you to fuck off and keep away from me.

          November 2, 2013 at 7:41 pm |
        • justageek

          @Answer – Take the blue pill tomorrow and maybe you'll chill a little. Such anger over something so silly.

          November 2, 2013 at 7:45 pm |
        • Answer

          You want to read "anger"... that is your choice.

          You read the word "fuck" and "off" like anger. That is your choice.

          Get out of your matrix addon.

          November 2, 2013 at 7:52 pm |
        • justageek

          Yeah...OK...my bad. I didn't realize you statement now replaces "pleased to me you"...so back at you...pfft. Silly kids.

          November 2, 2013 at 7:55 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Rick, I am a member of non-religious charity organization that opens its meeting with a Christian prayer. I stand silently and respect the wishes (oun intended) of the group. The difference is I don't have to be a member, and even though I feel the prayer is exclusionary (only christian faith is represented) I can over look it because I am not forced to be there.

      Gov't functions are different, all should feel included and welcome and the only way to do that is for the function to be nuetral as to belief or non-belief....why is that too much to ask for?

      November 2, 2013 at 7:32 pm |
      • justageek

        What about the naturalists who are forced to wear clothes? When can they feel welcome without being forced to conform first? Why stop at one prejudice?

        November 2, 2013 at 7:43 pm |
        • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

          When naturalism is protected in the Consti.tuion you would at least have an argument...as is you are being obtuse.

          November 2, 2013 at 8:38 pm |
    • Yeah, but...

      Sorry Rick. I seriously doubt you're an atheist. A troll – yes, but an atheist, no likely.

      November 2, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
      • justageek

        So how is someone having a neutral thought a troll?

        November 2, 2013 at 7:35 pm |
    • justageek

      I second that. Next thing you know someone will be in court because they don't believe in manners so how dare they hear someone say 'thank you' to them. Crazy times.

      November 2, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
  9. Larry

    The First Amendment gives you the right to follow any religion, or no religion. It does NOT give you freedom FROM religion.

    November 2, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      It does mean freedom FROM gov't sponsered religion however....

      November 2, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
    • Greg

      Technically correct and she is technically wrong. There was no law passed and the amendment specifically states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion". But the key word is "respecting". That basically states that government shall not respect any religion. The council is respecting a religion. But you're comment is way off base. Freedom "from" religion? That's a right that we all have. No city council, state government, or federal government be it prayer or forcing someone going to church has any right pushing such prayer on anyone. That's exactly what they are doing.

      November 2, 2013 at 7:31 pm |
      • aldewacs2

        ""Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion"." is language of a different time.
        It has nothing to do with "respect".
        It means "Congress shall make no law CONCERNING an establishment of religion"

        November 2, 2013 at 11:47 pm |
    • John

      Your statement lacks ANY logic.

      November 2, 2013 at 7:41 pm |
  10. Dyslexic doG

    "For 27 years I prayed every day of my life for God to heal my son's mental illness," Pastor Rick Warren said.

    Need any more proof that prayer doesn't work?

    November 2, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
    • Science Works

      Fit the bill prayer is a con too

      Friday, Oct 25, 2013 07:48 AM CDT
      How shameless Christian con artists took over the GOP

      Conservative politicians are exploiting their voters the same way some church leaders exploit believers
      By Amanda Marcotte, Alternet

      November 2, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
      • Science Works

        Should be Fits

        November 2, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
  11. howardfeinski

    Let's be coldly logical. Why waste the time to squabble when you cease to exist at death for eternity – and eternity is an awful long time.

    November 2, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
    • Jamie

      Let's be even more coldly logical. If we're all going to cease to exist at death, then EVERYTHING is a waste of time. . . . No one's forcing you to pray. You sit for a minute and half while 99% of the participants bow their heads, and you move on. Case closed. Their rights, too . . .

      November 2, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
      • Dyslexic doG

        so you're saying that god exists because you don't think that this is a waste of time?

        Wow! There's proof for you.

        There is no god, and you can certainly do so much good in your life that your life will not be a waste of time and will have long lasting impact on the human race. Your fairy father figure in the sky is not needed.

        November 2, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
        • fumota68

          is like a blind person saying that the sun doesn't exist just because he can't see it shine, you are free to believe what you want but don't try to impose your beliefs on some one else, just because he doesn't exist for you we have to believe the same, live and let live, believe and let believe please.

          November 2, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
        • Tom

          Atheists are full of sound and fury, but lacking in facts and logic. Let's look at the science. The Big Bang took place 13.8 billion years ago. Was it spontaneous? That's effect without cause. That's not science, it's magic. How about the principle of gravity, which brought order out of chaos, giving us "galaxies, stars, the planets in their courses, and this fragile Earth, our island home." From whence came DNA, the simple yet complex source of all life forms on Earth? What's your explanation? Einstein was not a conventional believer, But he knew there was a First Cause. He had no time for atheism. Neither do I.

          November 2, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          I's as sooon not make time for your religion, Tom. Stay home when you pray, or at least do it in a setting that doesn't get in the way.

          November 2, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
      • Trevor

        Why should we have to sit through it. Do it at home, in a church, or more appropriately, in a padded room.

        November 2, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
      • Flappy

        I hardly think life is a waste of time just because it doesn't go on forever. If anything that makes time more precious.

        November 2, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
      • IslandAtheist

        Everlasting life would cheapen this life.

        November 2, 2013 at 8:48 pm |
  12. Karin Werner

    If one is compelled to pray they can do so at a church or anywhere else for that matter prior to the meeting. The only words that should be uttered prior to the meeting is; (The meeting is in order...):

    Religion does not belong in a town meeting unless of course the meeting is about a church or some religious factor.

    Religion requires faith. Being that is the case, it is silly to require a remnant of religion in a town meeting where facts, not faith based ideas, are being played out.

    November 2, 2013 at 6:57 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      perfect!

      November 2, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
    • Lionly Lamb

      Sired Karin W....

      What really should it matter if prayers be allowed in any social setting..? Could it be that some people are consciously bitter whenever prayer minded folks conjure up issues too appalling to be rightly construed by whiners and scoffers who still suffer from their past done wrong deeds..? Many people forgive and forget but whiners and scoffers standing against God and Christ do ever stoke the furnaces with vile condescension of not repenting digging ever deeper their holes instead of filling them in...

      November 2, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
      • a reasonable atheist

        This is not a social setting.

        November 2, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
        • Lionly Lamb

          What....?

          Where....?

          Why not...?

          Ye of little faith knows not what a 'social setting' is... Finish school and graduate before you adorn yourself with social accolades...

          November 2, 2013 at 7:41 pm |
        • a reasonable atheist

          Allow me to clarify. The subject of the article that we are commenting upon has nothing to do with social settings. The subject of the article is a dispute over prayer being included in a government function, ie not a social setting.

          "Finish school"? That's both an amusing and nonsensical statement when directed at me. It belies how utterly uniformed you are.

          November 2, 2013 at 7:56 pm |
        • Lionly Lamb

          Are not government functions set in a social format thereby being a social setting of governmental order..?

          November 2, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
        • a reasonable atheist

          As fun as it is to play semantics, no. The meeting is held in an official capacity. It is not a social event.

          November 2, 2013 at 9:55 pm |
  13. cc

    Easiest way to resolve this is to open the 'prayer' further. Also invite atheists to give it. It might be better if they called it 'opening remarks' rather than 'opening prayer' but as far as I'm concerned it's the content that's the problem, not the label. Give everybody who's interested a chance-atheists included.

    November 2, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
    • ME II

      The easiest way is to start the meeting with, "This meeing is now open..."

      Personnally I don't see why the religious of the group can't have a pre-meeting prayer somewhere else and leave the government meeting for government business.

      November 2, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
    • Tom Happy

      You do realize that atheists don't pray right? The word prayer assumes religion and can never be "inclusive" of atheists.

      November 2, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
    • Jamie

      Everybody means everybody, Christians, Muslims, Jews, and atheists included.

      November 2, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
    • IslandAtheist

      Why should atheists shove our non-belief on other citizens at a government meeting? ...what's wrong with just getting down to business?

      November 2, 2013 at 7:54 pm |
  14. ImIrish

    I hope those crackpot women lose.

    November 2, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
    • Severe PTSD as a result of ra-pe by clergy

      hope they win, as they should

      November 2, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
      • ImIrish

        I stand by my comments.

        November 2, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
    • ImIrishtoo

      I hope they win

      November 2, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
    • IslandAtheist

      Hope? ...what about prayer?

      November 2, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
  15. paul

    Religion has become silly, boorish, and exhausting to discuss.

    November 2, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
  16. Apex301

    Mythology has no place in government. Just because a lot of people are deluded into believing in a magic giant in the sky that was written into a bronze-age book by primitives, is no reason for our government to force such silly beliefs on everyone else.

    November 2, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
    • ImIrish

      Stay on point. We're talking about religion and prayers, not mythology or a giant in the sky.

      November 2, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
      • ME II

        ...and the difference is?

        November 2, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
      • ctrlbreak

        Religion is mythology, so, can't get much more on point.

        November 2, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
      • Tom Happy

        Zeus held a position of being worshiped far longer than Jesus. If you can discount the hundreds of thousands of gods that came before yours, or the thousands of religions that currently exist in the world and you don't see why your is no different than any of them then you need to start reading stuff outside of the bubble you exist in.

        November 2, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
      • notogop

        Christianity and most Western religions are nothing more than adulterated forms of Jewish mythology.

        November 2, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
      • tarheel1110

        Apex301 was exactly on point! There is no other way to correctly refer to the the beliefs and ideas espoused by ImIrish than as mythology and a giant in the sky. It is all paganism.

        November 2, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
      • Flappy

        To an atheist religion and prayers are the same as mythology and giants in the sky so it rather is on point.

        Can you make a convincing argument that they aren't?

        November 2, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
      • HotAirAce

        Unless you can come up with some actual evidence for any god, ancient myths and all religion are identical.

        November 2, 2013 at 8:15 pm |
  17. Ctrygrl

    I am a Christian but I do not believe in this prayer for Christians only. Whoever chooses the speaker should have a list of all the religions in town. If they once invited a Wiccan that means there must be Wiccans. Christians probably are dominant so a majority of the prayers will be Christian. But they ought to represent every single religion and the atheist as well, I mean they could get up and say "you folks do a good job today" or whatever. In something like this any time you exclude you create resentment and it really isn't necessary.

    November 2, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
    • notogop

      I appreciate your attempt to appease everyone, but how would an atheist give a prayer? To whom would they call upon to bless this gathering? Maybe a moment of silent contemplation? Just curious.

      November 2, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
  18. Lady L

    As an Atheist myself, my question is.....who cares? Freedom of religion is a right every one in the US has. If believing in a higher power gives someone comfort, it isn't hurting me any. I don't understand why one group feels like they have to force their rights on someone else. At least half of the population believes in a higher power. One person forcing her right on the majority is ridiculous. If she really doesn't want to hear the prayer, she can walk out and return. This is a waste of the legal system's time.

    November 2, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
    • ME II

      Why exactly should anyone feel like they need to walk out and return from a government function solely based on religious beliefs?

      If there is no religious rituals in the meeting then everyone can feel free to attend. How is that not better?

      November 2, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      The gov't is representative of ALL the people, not just the majority, that is the point. The gov't should be nuetral on the question of religious belief and the only way that can be accomplished is to have no reference pro or con in gov't functions. Why is that so hard to understand?

      November 2, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
    • Kyle_Jones92

      I'm a Christian and I want to thank you for posting your message the way you did. I absolutely agree with you that nobody should have religion, or lack thereof, forced down their throat. But you said it in a respectable way without name calling and being cruel. Thank You

      November 2, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
    • modocer

      I'm a Diest. My background in chemical engineering led me to consider how precisely, and predictably things "come together, and the idea that evolution creates higher and higher magnitudes of "order" seems too difficult to accept. But, I could care less what anybody else believes, and agree with you that too much time is dedicated to a nothing issue. Why some folk are so easily offended is beyond me. I guess the need for significance, and to be seen as important motivates them to start making demands of other people.

      November 2, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
      • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

        "I guess the need for significance, and to be seen as important motivates them to start making demands of other people."

        Funny, because I think this is the exact reason why they want prayer at gov't functions....

        November 2, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
      • ME II

        Evolution is biology not chemistry. Without reproduction it would not work.

        November 2, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
    • Flappy

      But you made her point exactly in your statement. Why should one group force another group to conform? Aren't they making her conform by making her participate in the prayers or be excluded?

      November 2, 2013 at 7:32 pm |
  19. Lionly Lamb

    God watches over the weak and likewise the strong in issues of one's individual faith... But for the brazen who tend to vilify the weak and strong alike, there lays God's wrath and Christ's judgment...

    November 2, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
    • Answer

      Useless mumbo jumbo.

      November 2, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
      • Lionly Lamb

        Sired Answer...

        Unlike you I do not believe in mumbo jumbo...

        November 2, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
        • Neo Agnostic

          What you believe in is mumbo jumbo.

          November 2, 2013 at 7:15 pm |
        • Lionly Lamb

          Like I said before, "I don't believe in your concepts of mumbo jumbo chicanery.."

          November 2, 2013 at 7:30 pm |
    • sam stone.

      empty proxy threat hogwash, LL

      November 2, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
      • Lionly Lamb

        Conceived and sired Sam S....

        Such a bitter and vile construct of verbalism unworthy of a second glance...

        November 2, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
        • sam stone.

          mouthy blowhard. smoke a joint, if you have the guts

          November 2, 2013 at 7:38 pm |
    • Sotzume

      This talk of God is sickening and ridiculous...let's get rid of it, forever, finally.

      November 2, 2013 at 6:41 pm |
      • Lionly Lamb

        Dream on Sotzume....

        November 2, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
    • Mike

      Oh, how cute!.....................and super-ignorant!

      November 2, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
      • Lionly Lamb

        Sire Mike...

        So glad you are willing to share such thoughts no matter their insinuating natures...

        November 2, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
    • Tom Happy

      Roses are red
      violets are blue
      quoting things is fun
      You should try too.

      See now we both said useless and irrelevant things.

      November 2, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
      • Lionly Lamb

        Real eyes
        Realize
        Real lies

        Love let us
        Love lettuce
        Lettuce love
        Let us love

        November 2, 2013 at 7:34 pm |
  20. Answer

    ==quote from article==

    "A few people should not be able to extinguish the traditions of our nation merely because they heard something they didn't like."

    ==end quote==

    Traditions are just the stuff you dream up of doing that involves a routine. They are changeable and are not sacred.
    You're defending a set of practices because it has "history"... whoopee doo. Get over your useless traditions. Form new ones because traditions are just that -CHANGEABLE.

    November 2, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
    • Leschiguy

      The Founding Fathers were mostly intellectuals and atheists. How did you get the idea that this view of America as a Christian nation is a tradition?

      November 2, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
      • Answer

        Hey stupid.. read what I posted.

        November 2, 2013 at 7:30 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.