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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. Know Your Subject

    "The prayers, and all the controversy, it makes you feel like an outcast, like we don't count in our town."

    Just some more folks who want public recognition of how special they think they are.

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

      You're talking about those who want so much recognition that they want EVERYBODY to participate in their religious rituals, right?

      November 2, 2013 at 10:17 pm |
  2. Apple Bush

    God created the universe.

    Many billions of years ago, a life form evolved on a planet not so far distant and their scientists deduced the building blocks for life existed in the universe and from it, new life forms could be created. These ancient ones populated Mars with life and eventually, due to asteroid events over millions of years, life arrived here on Earth.

    We are a product of that primeval turbulence. Therefore, we must worship the Aliens, not God.

    The Aliens have to answer to God. This is all true because I have faith that it happened just this way and it is in writing.

    November 2, 2013 at 9:01 pm |
  3. Agnostic

    The Supreme Court should mandate that she can open the meeting once a year. She could tell the others if they don't like it they can just not listen, or wait in the hall. She could say, "If God didn't exist we would have to take care of this planet, or perish. And we would have to be good to each other, or descend into anarchy. Let's do these things because, you guessed it, God doesn't exist." See if they can understand what it's like to be expected to listen to different beliefs and just listen politely.

    November 2, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      🙂

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

      Except it's still not fair. First, people with many beliefs, such as Quakers and many atheists, don't prostlytize, so they will never have a "share" of the platform. Second, smaller geoups will always have less representation, and likely won't even have someone in such a small population who is a public speaker. This system wil always favor the majority in an area that is no business of government. As a taxpayer I pay the upkeep and heet and lights for these meetings, and I don't want any of that wasted on prayera.

      November 2, 2013 at 9:04 pm |
      • Agnostic

        Of course I agree. But I'd like to get it through some people's thick heads what it's like to have your rights walked on, then maybe we can agree to the separation of church and state. I'm actually from Canada and there was an ad campaign on buses that said, 'God doesn't exist, so just relax", and it was shut down by complaints. Why can't they, "just not read it"? Why can't there be ANY free speech by athiests when there is dominant speech by Christians?

        November 2, 2013 at 9:12 pm |
      • chris

        heat

        November 2, 2013 at 9:14 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      The point is there shouldn't be a platform! Afire anyone!!

      November 2, 2013 at 9:08 pm |
      • HotAirAce

        . . . For anyone!!

        November 2, 2013 at 9:08 pm |
    • cjacja

      No, to balance all their past mistakes they need to invite those who were excluded to every meeting for 10 years. Maybe they can have someone sacrifice a goat at their next meeting and the guy next month read a passage from Marx. Someone might call it silly then we can answer "now you know what we were thinking about your rituals."

      I'm a Pastafarian (With a capital "P") I'd be happy to talk at their meeting. BTW you all should consider joining us because OUR heaven has a beer volcano.

      November 2, 2013 at 10:05 pm |
  4. Sara

    What's dihonest is all the people who claim this doesn't matter and they aren't trying to spread religion. If it didn't matter they wouldn't be having these payers in the first place. These folks know perfectly well that a dominant Christian town that has predominantly Christian prayers makes others feel like outsiders – and that's their intention.

    November 2, 2013 at 8:58 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      😉

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

      What is actually far more dangerous is the athiest zealots coming out to condemn a matter of free speech in a legislative body. I hate what they say, but I will defend to the death their right to say it...loosely quoted voltaire

      November 2, 2013 at 9:14 pm |
      • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

        A gov't body does not have an expectation of free speech, that is an individual freedom.

        November 2, 2013 at 9:35 pm |
        • mike

          Well firstly, individuals exist within government bodies, and secondly, I do not know about Greece, but in the COTUS, it is even more enshirined that a congressperson has freedom of speech immunity

          November 2, 2013 at 9:37 pm |
        • HotAirAce

          If the US Congress' rules are similar to other parliamentary bodies, the exemption only covers things said in Congress. Members of most parliamentary bodies do not have absolute immunity, just like religious cult members do not have a right to practice their delusions wherever, whenever or however they want to.

          November 2, 2013 at 9:57 pm |
        • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

          Mike, so a gov't body can perform a Catholic Mass as part of its official capacity? Of course not...and not allowing it has nothing to do with freedom of speech. Individual legislators of course have freedom of speech but that has nothing to do with what I said. You are arguing apples and oranges.

          November 2, 2013 at 10:08 pm |
      • HotAirAce

        If you are appearing before a government body, to make a presentation of to pet!tion them to do something, you can say anything you want. That is totally different than the government meeting, likely in a government building, opening the meeting with a voodoo moment.

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

        Mike, it's a matter of context. You can print up all the fliers you want and hand them out on the street. You can make websites and take out ads on TV. But you can't preach to a captive audience on the taxpayers dime. If you can't see the difference I suggest you analyze your motives in selecting such willful ignorance.

        November 2, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
        • HotAirAce

          Or take a remedial class in civics.

          November 2, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
        • Sara

          I'm better the drive for willful ignorance beats out any small urge to actually take a class and learn something.

          November 2, 2013 at 10:01 pm |
  5. Apple Bush

    The sound is neither audible nor plausible

    The cause is unobtainable and impossible

    The reality is ridiculous yet true

    The end, worse than the beginning

    The beginning is the end

    November 2, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
  6. Jay-hawk

    If Susan that is Jewish does not like it let her go back to Israel. I think they would like you. they think they do not have enough Jews.

    November 2, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Are you from Kansas? Come on admit it. Creationist.

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

      So Jews should not get the same special treatment that Christians do here in the US? Only Christians should get special treatment from our government? Well, maybe you should go live in one of those countries that has a theocracy and leave the democratic republic to the rest of us.

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

      It was the schoolboy who said, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”–Mark Twain, Following the Equator

      November 2, 2013 at 9:15 pm |
    • corridorwatcher

      Yes, I do believe that racism is a part of many religions. Thank you for making the point.

      November 2, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
  7. Apple Bush

    You, child
    Crossing the line without knowing
    Just for being who you are
    What confusion was hard wired?
    A developing brain, healthy and ready
    Sabotaged as a child
    Savage religion.

    November 2, 2013 at 8:49 pm |
  8. Jonas

    The only reality is that no one knows for sure how or why we are here. The "believers" who claim to know only believe it through faith in the scripture.....scripture that was written by men.

    November 2, 2013 at 8:46 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      This is true. Why do the Christians claim to know something the rest of us don't? It is an illness.

      November 2, 2013 at 8:48 pm |
      • jim

        Fear and wishful thinnking

        November 2, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
    • Answer

      @Jonas

      The word "faith" is just a shorthand for "pretend to know" or just "pretense."

      As atheists we know that when a religious uses that faith word we know what they are saying is just this "I am pretending to have contact with my god."

      November 2, 2013 at 9:31 pm |
      • corridorwatcher

        Maybe their voices they hear in their head are coming for sky god. But if an MRI shows a tumor on the brain, that might give us pause to believe so.

        November 2, 2013 at 9:44 pm |
    • a reasonable atheist

      We have a pretty good handle on the "how." Hint, it involves your biological parents copulating.

      As far as the why, does there even have to be a why? If there has to be a why, shouldn't it be up to us to decide that on an individual basis?

      November 2, 2013 at 10:36 pm |
  9. Apple Bush

    Go now and tell the fools the truth of their misplaced worship.
    Speak loudly that religion is the true great evil on this Earth.
    This Evil affects every plant and animal the Mother gave us.
    Tell them and care not if they are vulgar, for you are the light

    November 2, 2013 at 8:45 pm |
  10. Apple Bush

    When it is the atheists turn to speak, we will simple say, "I call this meeting to order." What does Jesus have to do with anything? It is decidedly unfair to marginalize non-Christians. Christians are just bullies with a tedious smile and a collection plate.

    November 2, 2013 at 8:39 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Based on my experience, most "Christians" just don't want to rock the boat. They don't really believe in something as stupid as Jesus and the bible.

      November 2, 2013 at 8:40 pm |
      • Tom, Tom, the Other One

        At the grocery store recently I saw a little picture book about Jesus for children. It fairly well represents what I think people are actually comfortable with about Jesus: the disciples, The Sermon on the Mount, miracles involving feeding thousands of people and healing. All positive things. Nothing about sin or hell. No hint of the crucifixion or resurrection.

        November 2, 2013 at 8:49 pm |
        • Apple Bush

          Well Tom, you know as well as I do that indoctrination is a process.

          November 2, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
      • Deus Ibi Est

        It takes intelligence to understand and appreciate what Jesus said and did in the New Testament.............all witnessed by the four men who wrote it. Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

        Just because you don't have that ability doesn't mean the BILLIONS of Catholics and even MORE billions of Christians are somehow mislead!

        When you have an education and don't worship yourself instead of the good God who made you – come back and speak as an adult – not a 4th Grader.

        November 2, 2013 at 8:50 pm |
        • mdatc

          I disagree about creationism and aspects of the bible, but they are allowed to believe.

          November 2, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
        • Observer

          Deus Ibi Est,

          Speaking of 4th grade, do you believe in unicorns, talking nonhumans, and dragons like in the Bible?

          November 2, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
        • Apple Bush

          Deus Ibi Est, everything you just said, only the complete opposite. Ignoramus.

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

          I'll consider studying The Babble when someone can prove with actual evidence that it is what delusional believers claim it to be. Until then, it remains a steaming pile of crap, not even good fiction.

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

          Wrong. Faith does not require intelligence. If it did, then only intelligent people would be Christians. As this is clearly not the case, your claim is false.

          November 2, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
        • berryrat

          I respect faith, but doubt is what gets you an education. –Wilson Mizner

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

          Then how come their accounts do not agree.

          November 2, 2013 at 9:50 pm |
        • a reasonable atheist

          Deus ubi est?

          Also, your statement is a wonderful example of the argumentum ad populum fallacy.

          November 2, 2013 at 10:46 pm |
    • mike

      Athiests could easily, and welcomly, speculate about how awesome the cosmos is, and how greatful you are that we are what we are as human being, and offer a word of hope toward the starving children of the world...all the same

      November 2, 2013 at 8:43 pm |
      • Apple Bush

        That is true but completely unnecessary.

        November 2, 2013 at 8:46 pm |
        • mike

          neither is something like the army marching band, or school cheerleaders, but we have them anyway.

          November 2, 2013 at 8:48 pm |
        • HotAirAce

          And they (cheerleaders and marching bands) should be told to fuck off too if they bring religion into their performances at non-religious events.

          November 2, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
        • Apple Bush

          Again, this is true. I fail to grasp your point though.

          November 2, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
        • mike

          i fail to grasp yours about neccesity

          November 2, 2013 at 9:06 pm |
  11. Phanatos

    There are just too many people, with far too little to do, that love to espouse the most mind-numbing drivel.

    November 2, 2013 at 8:35 pm |
    • corridorwatcher

      You are talking about religionists, no doubt.

      November 2, 2013 at 8:48 pm |
  12. stevie68a

    "christians" need to be told again and again, they've been brainwashed. jesus is imaginary, jesus is imaginary. You can be a
    good person without this crutch. Nietzche said "there's not enough love in the world, to hand it over to imaginary beings".

    November 2, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
    • JD

      Jesus is imaginary? Guess you don't know anything about history, do you?

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

        Perhaps the person is not, but the machinations by the fanatical are. No one in the history of humankind performs real magic. Sorry, but you are as delusional as anyone else who pushes their religious tripe on others in public forums, like schools and business/political meetings.

        November 2, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
      • Skarphace

        Jesus of Nazareth was most likely not imaginary. But Jesus the Son of God? I hate to break it to you, but if Jesus was born, then he had a real flesh and blood father. That is how it works in the real world.

        November 2, 2013 at 8:54 pm |
    • Cheryl Noddin

      You can be a good person, you can do good works, but without saving faith the narrow gate is closed and Christ is the only way to heaven. I would not want to see a good person miss the opportunity to know Christ...a truly good person would read the Bible and find out what it is all about...that is being informed.

      November 2, 2013 at 8:46 pm |
      • corridorwatcher

        Go read the story of Lot...

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

        A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything. –Friedrich Nietzsche

        November 2, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
  13. Randy

    You are not required to go to the meetings. If you don't want to go, then don't. Nobody is pointing a gun to your head and making you pray, either.

    November 2, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
    • Observer

      Randy,

      Good. Let atheists have equal time to speak and then believers don't have to go either.

      November 2, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
      • Phanatos

        yet another reason why nothing ever gets done at these meetings. Too many monkies worried about what the other monkies are doing to pay attention to the business matters at hand.

        November 2, 2013 at 8:38 pm |
    • One one

      Stupid comment.

      November 2, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
    • DaVide

      If they are there to do government business, in our SECULAR nation, there should be no requirement for prayer. Because that's what they are doing now.

      November 2, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      There are numerous reasons why citizens must attend town meetings. Why should whatever business they are there for be potentially prejudiced by participating in, or not, in some religious ritual?

      November 2, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
    • JJ

      Spoken like a bully/True Christian®.

      November 2, 2013 at 8:40 pm |
    • Chaos

      Ah Randy, Whether her attendance is voluntary or not is irrelevant my ignorant friend.

      November 2, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
    • SmartPotato

      The meetings are for the public, not a congregation. These praying folks are delusional, and need to let it go at public events. IF they choose to pray, they can do their craziness at a church.

      November 2, 2013 at 8:42 pm |
    • Skarphace

      Randy, if you want to pray, go to church. Don't go to a government meeting if you want to worship. It is the wrong place and time. How hard is that to understand?

      November 2, 2013 at 8:48 pm |
  14. mdatc

    This place has just about the same comment quality than when I left. I wish they would update the comment system.

    November 2, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
  15. mike

    having a prayer and thanking jesus is not the same as standing up and declaring "you will believe in jesus or else"

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

      if you find that to be necessary, do it in the parking lot or at home before you go to the meeting.

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

        it is not up to me to declare what is and what is not neccesary. as a matter of decorum I would not object to another person wanting to have some sort of meaningless reminiscing and I don't care what form it takes.

        November 2, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
    • Observer

      mike,

      How pathetically WEAK is your religion that postponing a short prayer will hurt it?

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

        how long were you not breastfed as a child that you can't sit still long enough to live and let live

        November 2, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
        • Observer

          mike,

          Sorry you missed my question.

          Got any answer?

          November 2, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
        • mike

          Whether or not someonethinks this would hurt something is irrellevant to the actual rights at hand. It would not hurt the overall religion. If you really believe in whatever religion you have, I would think that God will see that alls well in the end anyway, or at least he wouldnt hitch his plans to american democracy

          November 2, 2013 at 8:35 pm |
        • Observer

          mike

          "Whether or not someonethinks this would hurt something is irrellevant to the actual rights at hand"

          If having patience to listen to a person talk about their beliefs is not a problem, certainly you'd have no objection to the atheists having equal time to speak, right?

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

          nope /thread

          November 2, 2013 at 8:39 pm |
    • One one

      Why do you feel a need to do it as a public demonstration? Are you not satisfied by simply doing it silently for yourself ?

      November 2, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
      • mike

        I am not a memeber of a religion so I do not feel a need personally

        November 2, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      When it is the atheists turn to speak, we will simple say, "I call this meeting to order." What does Jesus have to do with anything?? It is decidedly unfair to marginalize non-Christians. Christians are just bullies with a tedious smile and a collection plate.

      November 2, 2013 at 8:37 pm |
    • SmartPotato

      Subjecting others to their machinations when it's NOT RELEVANT to the business at hand IS intrusive, and wastes others' time. Pray before you go, and let the rest of the people who live in the real world get s*it done.

      November 2, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
    • Frank

      Or else you will receive threatening letters and your property will be vandalized.

      November 2, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
    • Skarphace

      So, Mike, you wouldn't have a problem with a group of Muslims leading prayer before governmental meetings? They aren't forcing you to convert, so it should be ok, right?

      The fact is that even if you are ok with it, the very Christians that are demanding time for their prayer would not be ok with it. They want their religion to be treated as special, and this is not consti.tutional in the US.

      November 2, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      "sacrificing a chicken and thanking Nubu is not the same as standing up and declaring "you will believe in Nubu or else"

      November 2, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
  16. OhioMario

    Prayer, regardless of cult or religion, is a religious expression. So, establishing an invocation at a secular meeting is inappropriate. If any city board member wants to pray about some city business, let him/her go ahead, but in private or in his/her church or home.

    Just establishing prayer as some sort of first point in a city agenda excludes nonreligious attendees, whether they are atheists or not.

    November 2, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
    • californiafats

      they were allowed not to participate. they chose instead to interfere with the rights of others

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

        californiafats

        So if atheists were given equal time at the meeting to talk about religion being foolish and the others "were allowed not to participate', then you'd have no problem, right?

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

        I think you're interpreting the others' rights incorrectly. They have the right to believe and practice as they please, but they do not have the right to mix it with governmental functions.

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

        By not participating in the voodoo, a person pretty much exposes their religious beliefs. Are you confident that you would be treated fairly if everyone knew your religious beliefs? Are you confident everyone would be treated fairly?

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

        Your idea of civil rights appears to be "Christians can do what they want, and if you don't like it you can just sit there and suck it up till we're done".

        November 2, 2013 at 8:43 pm |
    • mike

      The congress has a prayer every day. They have their own chaplain. It really is absurd. If they need a prayer thats fine. If the atheist wanted to read a poen by ralph waldo, that would be fine too

      November 2, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
      • Maddy

        I wonder if you would feel the same if an atheist chose to stand up and recite a poem about how there isn't a God? All good?

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

          Fine by me, so long as everything is civil, but even I would not adjudicate against that because it treads too close to free speech

          November 2, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
      • The Gunmother

        Doesn't seem to have done much good!

        November 2, 2013 at 8:38 pm |
    • Lionly Lamb

      Sired Mario...

      Governing bodies are not secular... They are conglomerations of multifaceted amalgams of people.

      November 2, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
      • JW

        Made up of secular people, and atheists also from what everyone is saying.

        November 2, 2013 at 9:14 pm |
    • Shah

      Whether it includes/excludes anybody is besides the point.

      What matters is that government (and government employees conducting government business) have no business invoking any type of religion at all. It's not part of their job description. It's not what they're empowered to do or paid to do.

      November 2, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
    • crazyvermont

      Perhaps as the now over used saying goes....it's time for people to put their big panties on and get over the world's not treating me right agenda. To put in personal perspective, I interact with a Jewish customer weekly and he has no problem respecting my beief in the Christian holidays ie I regularly receive cards and gifts from him at various holidays. By the same token, I also respect his holidays and send cards and appropriate gifts. Both of us are strong in wat we believe but have no issue with the other, even joking about the mother's beliefs. Think this lady wants her 5 minutes of fame, which she is getting

      November 2, 2013 at 8:39 pm |
      • doobzz

        There are two plaintiffs. One is an atheist and one is Jewish.

        November 2, 2013 at 8:45 pm |
    • SmartPotato

      Thank you! Common sense overrides the cult rituals of others, which has no relevance to the task at hand.

      So, if an atheist laughs during this prayer because it's his/her means of contacting his/her supernatural being, is anyone going to be offended? Or how about sacrificing a goat? Or doing a weather dance?

      November 2, 2013 at 8:46 pm |
  17. Colin

    Actually Scott, I would like to answer your criticisms of athieists by picking up on a comment I heard Sam Harris once make in a debate.

    Imagine, Scott, if you lived in the Dark Ages when most people believed in witches. A good deal of daily life was spent engaged in rituals to fend off withes and every Sunday morning, most of the town gathered together in a ceremony related to witchcraft. Further, all diseases were believed to be caused by witches and their spells, storms and other natural events were attributed to witches and mental illness was explained by possession by witches.

    Now imagine if you were part of a small group (about 10%) of the population that did not believe in witches. Instead, you believed that disease was caused by an unknown, but entirely natural cause and that the rituals performed every day or week by your community did not have any effect to alter natural events (such as bringing the rains or preventing violent storms) nor did they ward of witches.

    Now imagine if the 90% of the population also believed it was immoral or at least highly suspect not to believe in witches, that "In Wizards We Trust" was printed on your money, that community leaders made regular allusions to witches in their speeches and that you were viewed with a jaundiced eye for being skeptical of the whole witchcraft thing.

    Imagine further that, when you looked around you, you noticed that the smarter or better educated a person was, the less likely they were to believe in witches. That those villages with a greater proportion of nonbelievers tended to be controlling their economy and environment and flourishing a little better than those where virtually everybody believed in witches. You also noticed that 40% of those who believed in witches still thought the Earth was designed to be flat and wanted to teach that in schools as “Intelligent Design” and that those who believed in witches wanted to deny people the right to marry people of the same star sign.

    Finally, Scott, imagine that you noticed many abuses caused by the belief in witches, such as people giving 10% of their crops to priests to ward off witches, belief in witches being used to deny the pollution you noticed building up in your village and laws being passed controlling how a woman must act during menstruation based on witchcraft.

    Think, as a nonbeliever, how much you would want to oppose the belief in witches and witchcraft. Think of how you would view witchcraft as a retarding influence on society and how you would long for the day when the majority of the population adopted reason and logic to govern their lives rather than harboring under the stultifying effects of the belief in witches, pixies and elves.

    Well Scott, that's how it can feel not to believe in God, miracles and angels.

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

      I wish the whole world would read your quote. I've read Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins & a bunch of other "people who read & research." Excellent!

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

      Colin,

      There is no way that the relgiious freaks will accept the exploration of a hypothetical reality. They will retort with just the random preacher's hypothetical opposing straw man argument to get you off topic.

      November 2, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
    • californiafats

      funny, the most highly educated in the world still have faith. but not you. you know better. you are smarter than the people who lived through it. but still I cannot figure out why when nobody makes athiests participate, they cannot allow others to have their faith?

      November 2, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
      • Colin

        Well, actually there is an inverse corelation between education and faith and intelligence and faith. Secondly, nobody disputes the right of individuals to pray. It is the government that cannot do so. This is a very simle distinction that some people have a (deliberately) hard time seeing.

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

        They are forcing atheists to sit through this inane ritual. Those who want prayer, a rain dance, sacrifice a goat, etc., they can meet 10 minutes prior to the meeting, outside of the meeting. Then, when the meeting starts, have the f*c*inG meeting, as it was intended: for business.

        November 2, 2013 at 8:48 pm |
        • will

          they aren't forcing anyone to sit thru that prayer if they don't like it they can walk out this is a free country or at least it used to be

          November 2, 2013 at 11:08 pm |
        • HotAirAce

          Let's pretend. . .

          You have to go to a town council meeting to make a request of the council. You have to go to the meeting at the announced start time because the council cannot tell you when you will be presenting and you don't want to disrupt the proceedings. The council opens the meeting with a ritual you don't hold with so you leave until it is obvious the ritual is over. It is clear that some of the councillors are not happy that you are not a member of their tribe. Are you confident your presentation will be treated fairly?

          November 2, 2013 at 11:20 pm |
      • redlace

        argument from authority (logical fallacy). your argument is invalid.

        November 2, 2013 at 9:28 pm |
      • worldlypatriotusaveteran

        On the contrary, 95% of the members of the American Academy of Scientists, a non-profit organization recognized by the U.S. Government, disbelieve in God (72%), or express doubt or agnosticism (23%).

        In a different study, 64% of university professors are atheist or agnostic.

        There is a profound correlation between advanced education and lack of belief in "God.".

        November 2, 2013 at 10:09 pm |
    • steve in Canada

      Could never have said it better myself.as a person who grew up in the idiocy of fundamentalism I find it incomprehensible that so many people who can at least read and write cannot see how ludicrous and utterly unscientific religion is.Millions and millions of Americans(and quite a few Canadians) believe the world is in a mess because the two nudists in the botanical garden took bad advice from a snake and the dirty had to torture his offspring to make it right.go figure

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

      There are angry obnoxious Athiests who are super-vocal and wrong, just like there are angry obnoxious people of faith who are wrong. But I hate when Athiests, who have grown up in this country-which was founded by very relgious people–can't stand it when a prayer is said. It's not hurting anyone, it's not singling you out publicly. If you are the minority in the room just just be quiet, ignore it and move on.

      November 2, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
      • Colin

        I actually think we atheists do more harm to our cause than good when we pick fights over trivial infringements of church/state separation like small town nativity scenes and small town prayers like this in Greece.

        November 2, 2013 at 8:36 pm |
        • JW

          Colin; I believe the lady left her big girl panties at home. The beginning prayer is not meant to exclude her. She needs to get over it. Everyone says let the religious people have their prayer out in the hallway, but no one says what the atheist should do prior to the meeting. It's like they are just waiting for some reason to complain and whine, like a small child deprived of the last piece of candy.

          November 2, 2013 at 9:25 pm |
        • Observer

          JW,

          So no problem if atheists are given equal time to speak in government meetings, right?

          November 2, 2013 at 9:28 pm |
      • HONEyWoMAN

        That's the point, Jen: people are being hurt, just not you. You should check your history, too. Many of our founding fathers were atheists or at least spoke out against the public demonstration of religion. You have every right to pray - at home. You have every right to believe what you want and say what you want, just not on my time. Why should I have to wait and be quiet while you and yours waste my time with what I consider nonsense? Do you want to stand around and be quiet while I preach atheism? Of course not.

        November 2, 2013 at 8:50 pm |
  18. Natch

    What atheists fail to realize is, by stopping people from praying before these meetings, they are just as guilty of violating someone's 1st Amendment rights as they claim those people are of violating theirs. But they stand firm that THEIRS is the more important right.

    November 2, 2013 at 7:58 pm |
    • One one

      You have many opportunities to pray in private. This includes praying silently to yourself at these meetings. Why do you feel a need to openly pray openly at these meetings ?

      November 2, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
      • californiafats

        they had the option not to participate, what's the difference?

        November 2, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
      • kenny

        all religious people are ignorant. they CHOOSE to believe in a fairy tale because they are weak and fear death. Anyone that opens their eyes scares them because it brings up those fears that they CHOOSE to have. All emotions are a choice. Fear is the most powerful because it is rooted in our most basic instinct to survive. Just like yoda said... fear is the path to the dark side... it leads to anger then hate and finally suffering. Just because its a line from a silly alien in a movie ... doesn't make it any less true. All human suffering, partly thanks to religion, is rooted in fear... fear of the unknown.

        November 2, 2013 at 8:37 pm |
    • OhioMario

      I hope the Supreme Court follows common sense and not bend to the pressure of religious activists.

      November 2, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
    • corridorwatcher

      Fine. But let a prayer be said for each religion, and each version of Christian. That would bring all governments having prayer to a halt.

      November 2, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
      • JWT

        Don;t forget giving a reading of the satanic bible before the sessions too.

        November 2, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      You can't blame atheists for ensuring that the const!tution is followed. The Supreme Court has been consistent in upholding everyone's right to believe anything they like. They have also been consistent in placing limits on practicing religious beliefs. Remember, the Supreme Court is loaded with believers – there has never been an atheist even proposed as a member.

      November 2, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
  19. One one

    Dear christians,
    I fully understand and respect that you find your beliefs a source of comfort. However, I respectfully request that you practice your faith privately and stop trying to insert your religious beliefs into the public space.

    It's one thing for people to believe a magic man killed himself to save us from his wrath of eternal torture after death, and that one must believe this to avoid his eternal punishment. But it's quite another to teach this to my children and use them to promote your religious enterprise by trying to put prayer, creationism, "one nation under god", and the ten commandments in schools and other public places.

    Thank you.

    November 2, 2013 at 7:49 pm |
    • justageek

      Can we add people who hold doors open for me to that list. I can't stand those folks with manners imposing their beliefs on my kids and I. Who do they think they are for not knowing all my nuances beforehand!

      November 2, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
      • One one

        Are you saying teaching children curtesy practices, even if outdated, is comparable to teaching children that they will burn in hell forever if they don't believe in ancient myths ?

        November 2, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
        • justageek

          I'm saying that your statement about 'insert your religious beliefs into the public space' should apply to any belief for fairness.

          November 2, 2013 at 8:18 pm |
      • californiafats

        that's not an issue, narcissists never hold a door open!

        November 2, 2013 at 8:24 pm |
      • HONEyWoMAN

        That's a very, very weak argument.

        November 2, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
    • christian fai

      Understood, a person believing in God should keep his belief in private but a person believing that there is not God has a right to express his views in public and he also has a right of not hearing in public anyone talking why he believes that there is a Divine Intelligence behind how life came into existence and that such Divine Intelligence has the ability to interact within the thinking process of people who are able to reason.

      November 2, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
      • One one

        How would you feel if you discovered that your kid's atheist teacher was telling your kids they would burn in hell forever if they did not accept the atheist's beliefs ?

        November 2, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
        • What is going on? FREEDOM

          You realize this makes no sense since Atheists don't believe in God, the Devil, Hell, or Heaven right?

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

          OMG! I'm laughing so hard at you!

          November 2, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
    • jen

      See, the reason that a lot of people don't take Atheists seriously is your statement. Why did you have to go there and say "magic man" and put down people's beliefs? That is what I don't understand. If you are not religious, or don't believe, then that's perfectly fine by me and most people I know....live your life and hopefully you are a good person and that's all anyone should care about. But why do you have to then take it one step further and be obnoxious about it? I know a few Atheists and with the exception of one, they all do this same thing. They just can't be respectful....even to people who respect them. They lose all impulse control and they have to tell everyone how it is. That is the reason you don't get respect.

      November 2, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
      • One one

        Are you saying you don't believe in a magic man? Apparently you do. But when confronted with the silliness of the proposition, you get uncomfortable. Perhaps you need some soul searching. Do you believe the myth or not ?

        November 2, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
      • berryrat

        You are talking about respect. I can't count how many times a Christian has called me a devil worshipper for my Wiccan belief. Never mind that we don't believe in Satan Pot meet Kettle.

        November 2, 2013 at 9:34 pm |
    • corridorwatcher

      The flying spaghetti monster will send you to hell when you die.

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

      Tell Christians to practice their faith privately, and then you mock them publicly in your post. Ironic

      November 2, 2013 at 11:30 pm |
  20. Sonia

    Clearly, there is tremendous ignorance and prejudice by the commentators on this board. It is these very people who make this country so divided and mocked by the rest of the world.

    November 2, 2013 at 7:49 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.