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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. Cynthia Avishegnath

    I consider myself a right-wing Bible spewing pro-life anti-abortion pro-gun ownership but pro-gay Conservative.

    But I can't stand people forcing their version of religion on me. When you bring me to a meeting where praying to Jesus is mentioned or implied, I feel like Daniel being thrown into the Lions' Den or his friends into the burning Cauldron, because I refuse to practice idolatry bowing down to an unfamiliar god.

    To me, praying to Jesus is idolatry. You can fervently and Triumphantly quote me all the Christian scriptures you want, but that will NEVER change the fact that I consider Jesus idolatry. I have been to Christian Bible school for a year. I have depth of knowledge in the theology of various strains of Christianity far above most evangelical Christians. I understand the theology and arguments behind those various strains.

    In fact, I can pretend to be a fundamentalist Christian, and you tell me which strain of Christianity you wish to be, and I will be able to aide you in winning your argument, due to my knowledge of your scriptures. I can stand up in a podium and give a convincing sermon that will convert people to Christianity.

    But my bragging is simply to say, stop quoting your religious scriptures to me when I say,
    DO NOT PRAY in public places, because Jesus said so.

    Why are you forcing me to vote across party lines to vote Democrat, just so that I could practice my religion free of Idolatry? WHY?

    November 3, 2013 at 5:56 am |
    • Enough

      Which one has more decency? Someone who is praying in public or gay people showing their b u t t s to small kids in public during their gay pride parades?

      November 3, 2013 at 6:11 am |
      • H.

        if you find gay pride parades offensive, then simply don't go.

        November 3, 2013 at 6:14 am |
        • Enough

          That means that you think that showing you b u t t to small kids in public have more decency than someone who's praying in public. Your level of moral properties is very low.

          November 3, 2013 at 6:17 am |
      • corridorwatcher

        Strawman....

        November 3, 2013 at 6:15 am |
      • Cynthia Avishegnath

        FYI, I don't agree with people exposing themselves.

        November 3, 2013 at 6:20 am |
      • Steven

        You think showing butts to kids is restricted to gay men? Then you havent seen enough television... I personally am sick of butts and boobs paraded around in front of kids watching TV, but I will make sure that my kid doesn't see it unless I say they can.

        November 6, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • Just me

      Thank you for being pro life, pro gun, and pro love in all its many wonderful forms.
      I for one don't mind your religion or theirs, or any religion.

      I think if they speak you should speak. I'm not sure if silence helps. Even when we don't like the arguing I don't know that silence is golden.

      November 3, 2013 at 6:12 am |
      • Cynthia Avishegnath

        i do not wish to convince Christians to abandon their religion or their worship of Jesus. To me, if they live life just as Jesus had prescribed, as written in their gospels and as written in my part of the Bible, that would put my mind at ease.

        November 3, 2013 at 6:32 am |
        • Reality # 2

          Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations (or “mythicizing” from P, M, M, L and J) and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a ma-mzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). An-alyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Ludemann, Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, ) via the NT and related doc-uments have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus' sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects.

          The 30% of the NT that is "authentic Jesus" like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus' case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hitt-ites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics.

          November 3, 2013 at 6:37 am |
        • Cynthia Avishegnath

          Messr Reality, I have no evidence that I would agree or disagree with that Jesus was a schizo or mushroom imbibing halucinationist.

          We know that Paul/Saul was the actual founder of modern Roman and Orthodox Christianity.

          We can speculate that he was a young rabbi, who had concocted a new religion and waited for an opportunity to express that religion. He sought to universalize and globalize Jewish core principles to non-Jews without having people needing to subscribe to Jewish traditions. He encountered the Jesus effect and exploited it to make it the avenue of his new religion.

          ~ three hundred years after Paul, Emperor Constantin who inherited the cunning of Emperor Augustus, had himself invented a new universalist religion and solidified his new religion on the teachings of Paul. That is when Christianity became militant. Before Constantin, disagreements would simply be Christians mutually excommunicating one another. After Constantin became the effectively the first Pope, disagreeing Christians were eliminated or exiled.

          The explosion of Christianity is in no small part due to Emperor Constantin. Christianity as a religion, is in no big phenomenon, but the only phenomenon of the self-appointed apostle Paul's inspirational new religion, opportunistically adapted to the Jesus effect.

          In no way, can the cascade of this process be used to prove the Christianity is false. One could always say that those unlikely cascading of events that propelled Christianity into a universal philosophy somehow happened by Divine Providence and design.

          November 3, 2013 at 7:11 am |
  2. AvdBerg

    God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth (John 9:31). In fact God heareth where two or three are gathered in His name (Matthew 18:20).

    What does it mean to be a sinner?

    All those that call themselves Christians are not necessarily followers of Jesus Christ, but rather followers of an image of a false god and a false Christ (Matthew 24:24).

    For a better understanding of the above article and the history of 'Christianity', we invite you to read the articles 'Can Christianity or Any Other Religion Save You?', 'What is Sin?', 'Victory over Sin' and 'The Decline and Fall of a Divided Nation (Matthew 12:25)' listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    All the other pages and articles listed on our website explain how and by whom this whole world has been deceived as confirmed in Revelation 12:9, and what mankind must do to be reunited with the true and living God.

    November 3, 2013 at 5:56 am |
    • Enough

      What is a bigger sin? Someone who commit adultery or someone who reject God?

      November 3, 2013 at 6:08 am |
  3. BigBankTheory

    Religion is irrational, archaic and ridiculous, and reflects badly if used in proceedings that are supposed to be rational.

    November 3, 2013 at 5:37 am |
    • Enough

      Atheists showing their b u t t s to small kids in public during their pride parades rational?

      November 3, 2013 at 5:39 am |
      • BigBankTheory

        H o m o s e x u a l s are filth. It has nothing to do with atheism. You are very confused.

        November 3, 2013 at 5:44 am |
        • Enough

          Wrong, most of you atheists are gays, and atheists are the biggest supporters of gay rights.

          November 3, 2013 at 5:45 am |
        • BigBankTheory

          Well, Hitler was a Christian. That must make all Christians just like Hitler, right? Same "logic".

          November 3, 2013 at 5:47 am |
        • Enough

          Hitler was not a believer more than an atheists, he was a very sick mind person who was very confused.

          November 3, 2013 at 5:51 am |
        • BigBankTheory

          Hitler was not confused at all. He believed in Christianity and Nazism, the Germans being the superior race. That's right in the Bible.

          November 3, 2013 at 5:54 am |
        • Enough

          It's written in the Bible? Sure Hitler and Nazi is written somewhere in the Bible of course. Where in the world have you seen this in the Bible?

          November 3, 2013 at 6:02 am |
        • corridorwatcher

          You are very bigoted.

          November 3, 2013 at 6:17 am |
        • Enough

          Yeah i know, anyone not being supportive of gay rights and your deviant lifestyle are bigots right?

          November 3, 2013 at 6:19 am |
        • truthprevails1

          Considering bigotry is defined as someone who, as a result of their prejudices, treats other people with fear, distrust, hatred, contempt, or intolerance on the basis of a person's ethnicity, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, or other characteristics.

          Outside of your religion you have no justification for hating these people. They are born this way to christian families, to muslim families, to any family. They work; they pay taxes; they are not any more detrimental to society than you are. Bigot defines you nicely and you apparently wear it rather well, gee your parents must be so proud...pathetic!

          November 3, 2013 at 6:32 am |
        • Enough

          Bigotry is a word that has been thrown from one group to another like a ping pong ball over and over. It applies to both parties, not only at one group.

          November 3, 2013 at 6:44 am |
      • truthprevails1

        What the hell makes you think that Homosxuals are all Atheists???? That's like saying all Catholics are pedophiles because there are priests who are.
        That is what you have implied and it is simply wrong.
        To say it is filth when it is as natural as being straight is bigotry. What these people do in the privacy of their own homes is no-ones business and to whine about their parades is rather hypocritical considering children have access to the internet and can find a lot worse on here.

        November 3, 2013 at 6:08 am |
        • Enough

          Funny to notice a change in atheists from being pro gay rights supporters to not being that anymore.

          November 3, 2013 at 6:23 am |
        • truthprevails1

          I support everyone's right to live their personal lives as they wish, to love who they wish. You are seriously misguided about Atheists and LGBT.
          An education based on information from the 21st century opposed to the 1st century might do you a world of good.
          You scream about LGBT and Atheists but yet you're using products developed by Atheists. Hypocritical, don't you think?

          November 3, 2013 at 6:45 am |
        • Enough

          Hypocrisy here applies to you atheists. One day you are pro gay rights supporters and the next day you are not as much anymore.

          November 3, 2013 at 6:52 am |
        • truthprevails1

          What? I know plenty of christians who support LGBT also. I know plenty of christians who are LGBT. Once again, oh-one-lacking-of-brain, LGBT/Straight have nothing to do with belief or disbelief.
          Leave the trailer park and read something other than your bible.
          Doesn't matter what you think though, your side is not winning this battle...only 35 states to go before LGBT finally have the rights they deserve cross country and at the rate it is going, those 35 states won't take long to join the 21st century-you might want to catch up yourself.

          November 3, 2013 at 6:57 am |
        • Enough

          Atheists keep dreaming but you reign will certainly end someday just like any others.

          November 3, 2013 at 7:11 am |
        • truthprevails1

          What reign would that be??? LGBT are not going away, nor are Atheists. The fact that you are living in the dark ages does not change the course of time or what the ACTUAL facts are. If you don't like what is happening, you're free to go live in Russia where they support your type of bigotry.
          You're a special brand of stupid!

          November 3, 2013 at 7:17 am |
        • Enough

          Seriously answer me this. Do you really enjoy gay people showing their genital parts to small kids in public and on TV during their gay pride parades?

          November 3, 2013 at 7:24 am |
        • truthprevails1

          Seriously...I'm not sure what parades you're attending and I'm not sure what world you reside in but it is not just LGBT who do this stuff, hetero's also do and yet you don't seem to be screaming about that. If you want them to stop standing up for their rights, then stop being a bigot!

          November 3, 2013 at 7:34 am |
        • Enough

          You are an hypocrite and it's showing. Come on, you know too darn well that in every gay pride parades men are dressed up as drag queens and others are walking down in the streets in broad day light in front of small kids only wearing jockstraps and showing their b u t t s. You are an hypocrites. Everyone have seen this either in their hometown or either live on TV. And your ok with that? Is this really what atheists wanting for their kids?

          November 3, 2013 at 7:40 am |
        • truthprevails1

          Maybe that is what the people hosting the gay pride parade in your trailer park do but it is not typical of normal gay pride parades.
          If you're referring to the skimpy clothing, then you best keep your children out of public.
          Your ignorance is astounding!

          November 3, 2013 at 7:44 am |
        • Enough

          You're an hypocrites person, this is so typical of atheists and gays. Don't try to convince me otherwise, you only deepen yourself. People reading this blog are not completely idiots you know, they've seen those parades by themselves and they know what i'm saying is true.

          But nice try, you only helped your case showing publicly how hypocrites you atheists and gays are.

          November 3, 2013 at 7:51 am |
        • truthprevails1

          Says the one who thinks lgbt is abnormal...you're funny and rather a disgusting human.

          November 3, 2013 at 7:53 am |
        • Enough

          Which one is more disgusting? My comments or gays showing their genitals to small kids in broad day light in public?

          November 3, 2013 at 8:07 am |
        • truthprevails1

          You do not know what you are talking about!

          November 3, 2013 at 8:10 am |
  4. Gorsh

    I have no problem with atheists as long as they don't try to pass laws based on their atheism. There must be a separation of non-church and state.

    LOL. Hypocrisy

    November 3, 2013 at 5:30 am |
    • Goofy

      The atheists are doing to the Christians what the Christians did to the non Christians. It's come full circle in a way but the more we all do that to each other the less freedom we all have.

      November 3, 2013 at 5:33 am |
      • Enough

        Atheists are not realizing that they will make bigger mistakes than xtians did.

        November 3, 2013 at 5:37 am |
        • BigBankTheory

          Why should they? Atheism is based on rational understanding of the world.

          November 3, 2013 at 5:40 am |
        • Enough

          Based on rationals? You must be living in a fantasy land somewhere. Do you seriously think that showing your b u t t in public to small kids at your gay pride parades rational?

          November 3, 2013 at 5:42 am |
        • BigBankTheory

          You are very confused.

          November 3, 2013 at 5:46 am |
        • Enough

          You're the one who is confused, you're an atheists and you're not a gay right supporter? You must be very confused.

          November 3, 2013 at 5:47 am |
        • BigBankTheory

          No, I'm not a supporter. Basically, you are mixing two dogmas. I'm not buying the gay one, as do most atheists.

          November 3, 2013 at 5:52 am |
        • Enough

          Something is surely wrong with you, you've said that you're an atheist but not a gay right supporter. Most atheists that i know are, and Dawkins is a big supporter of gay rights.

          November 3, 2013 at 5:54 am |
        • BigBankTheory

          It's possible to an atheist and believe that. You can be a Christian and believe in the gay agenda just as well. The two things are quite separate, don't you get it?

          November 3, 2013 at 5:57 am |
        • Enough

          Well that's a first for me. Never heard of an atheist not being gay or not being gay rights supporter before.

          November 3, 2013 at 6:00 am |
        • truthprevails1

          Both of you are idiots and bigots. LGBT is just as natural as being hetero. I know many christians who are LGBT. In the end LGBT has nothing to do with belief/disbelief but everything to do with how a person is born. Your sexual orientation is not a choice, your hate and bigotry on the other hand is a choice. Try joining the 21st century!

          November 3, 2013 at 6:15 am |
        • corridorwatcher

          Did the voice of god in your head tell you that, or did you make it up on your own?

          November 3, 2013 at 6:19 am |
        • Enough

          Yeah we heard this many times over. If you're not gay and living a deviant lifestyle you're a bigot.

          November 3, 2013 at 6:21 am |
    • Mike

      What a double standard this lady has, she has the freedom of speech and religion but wishes to take away other peoples right to freedom of speech and religion.

      I'll put one down for the supreme court... Get your false laws out of here, get your IRS tax theft away from me, get's your demonic old republic / new age fascism away from me!

      November 3, 2013 at 5:44 am |
      • Christians and Atheists

        Try and remember both of you that there are more people in the United States than just the both of you.

        November 3, 2013 at 5:55 am |
    • AJ

      "I have no problem with atheists as long as they don't try to pass laws based on their atheism. There must be a separation of non-church and state."

      You really don't see how ridiculous that statement is? You want separation of church and state, but only laws based on religion, which only a portion of the public accepts?

      November 3, 2013 at 6:28 am |
    • DaBudaMasta

      LOL. Would you accept laws passed on Islamism?

      November 3, 2013 at 9:54 am |
  5. Cynthia Avishegnath

    Doubt is evidence of quality hoped for, the substantiation of quality apparent.

    According to Quality Control Engineering, doubt must come before faith. Doubt is the foundation of faith. Without doubt, faith would be like a castle built on sand, or a sand-castle.

    A person with strong faith in a Faith, must evidently have had a strong foundation of Doubt.

    November 3, 2013 at 5:25 am |
  6. Kenrick Benjamin

    JEHOVAH God lives in Jesus name amen.

    November 3, 2013 at 5:20 am |
    • berryrat

      I glad you are free to believe that, and I do hope you find your path to divinity. But please, don't try to stamp this on everyone's forehead.

      November 3, 2013 at 5:24 am |
      • Enough

        You see prosecution everywhere Berryrat. You're not a Wiccan than you're an atheist.

        November 3, 2013 at 5:28 am |
        • corridorwatcher

          There is persecution in many places. Enough persecution to be bothered about.

          November 3, 2013 at 5:30 am |
        • Enough

          The problem with atheists is paranoia.

          November 3, 2013 at 5:34 am |
        • berryrat

          When Christianity was young, there was persecution as well...a lot of it. Thankfully, you are free from that now days in many countries (although there are still place in which you'll still find paranoia is a wise precaution).

          As a WIccan, I know my beliefs are not the only way to connect with the all. Your belief is just as valid as mine. So are the beliefs of Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, etc etc. The trouble comes along with some religions declare themselves to one true way, and putting down other faiths. That's where the danger is; that is where the persecution starts in earnest.

          November 3, 2013 at 5:53 am |
        • Enough

          Well if you believe in your wiccan heart that your ways is the right thing, then why do you bother about what others think and believes into?

          November 3, 2013 at 5:59 am |
        • Bootyfunk

          paranoia? christians saying they are being attacked is paranoia. lol.

          November 3, 2013 at 6:33 am |
        • Enough

          And atheists always feels they're being prosecuted. What makes a difference?

          November 3, 2013 at 6:45 am |
    • sam stone.

      still sticking to the old slave religion, see

      November 3, 2013 at 7:29 am |
  7. Judith

    If the founding fathers wanted so much to seperate the church and state; why did they designate that "In God we Trust" to be the moto of Government in the USA?

    November 3, 2013 at 5:05 am |
    • berryrat

      Because they didn't. That was not added until 1954. I don't blame you for not being aware of this. Many people are not aware and falsely believe that our country was founded on 'Christian values'. That could not be further from the truth.

      November 3, 2013 at 5:12 am |
    • Steve

      Probably because they didn't. "In God We Trust" was adopted in 1956.

      November 3, 2013 at 5:13 am |
      • berryrat

        I stand corrected, it was 1956 (rather than 1954). Thanks.

        November 3, 2013 at 5:17 am |
    • Rev. Maya Ravensong

      Not that you will believe me or that you will even do the research to find out for sure, but the founders DID NOT designate "In God we Trust" as our motto. Google it, learn your own history before you speak.

      November 3, 2013 at 5:13 am |
      • berryrat

        Universal College of Healing Arts. What an interesting group. I'll spend a few minutes looking over the website. Have a great day!

        November 3, 2013 at 5:35 am |
    • tom

      They didn't. Go find a 19th century coin and you'll see that this whole "in god we trust" deal is 20th century anti-communist cr@p, just like adding "under god" to our pledge of allegiance. All of it completely violates what our founding fathers wanted. some of them were practicing christians. SOME OF THEM! They did not want any religion shoved down American throats. Those who think America was founded by and for christians do not know American history or are NOT Americans.

      November 3, 2013 at 5:33 am |
      • berryrat

        I wouldn't say they are not Americans. They are simply misinformed Americans.

        One good schoolmaster is worth a thousand priests. –Robert G. Ingersoll, in a speech given in New York, May 1, 1881

        November 3, 2013 at 5:38 am |
      • corridorwatcher

        Go got that right.

        November 3, 2013 at 5:42 am |
    • Cynthia Avishegnath

      Your knowledge of American history is appalling. Many dictatorships invent history and then force it on their subjects. Are you learning to be a theocratic dictator of USA.

      November 3, 2013 at 5:36 am |
    • dcobranchi

      The country was founded in 1956?

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_God_we_trust

      The Founders used "E Pluribus Unum" not "In God We Trust."

      November 3, 2013 at 6:16 am |
  8. Jim

    All religions need to go away....period! They do much more harm than good.

    November 3, 2013 at 5:05 am |
    • berryrat

      I practice secretly in my home (to avoid persecution). If my religion were to 'go away', you would not even notice.

      November 3, 2013 at 5:26 am |
      • Enough

        You're more of an atheist than you're a Wiccan.

        November 3, 2013 at 5:40 am |
        • berryrat

          Whatever floats your boat. Whether I'm an atheist or a Wiccan is up to me to decide. I believe in the God and the Goddess, the rule of three, and I hold the Wiccan rede dear. It does not bother me whether you are Christian, Jew, or Jedi. We both may be right or we both might be wrong. One belief is not superior to the other, only different ways of interfacing the unimaginable scope of eternal divinity. It is not fully grasped by any human mind. Good day and take care.

          November 3, 2013 at 6:08 am |
      • The broom closet

        I'm not a wiccan but my practices are like yours berry. I wonder though, maybe people shouldn't have to live like that.

        November 3, 2013 at 6:00 am |
  9. worldcares

    Considering the concept of religion evolved from the fears of the elements, religion was the foundation of civilizing ancient man.
    You wouldn't be here if it were not for your descendants.

    November 3, 2013 at 4:54 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      religion was man's first attempt at explaining the world around him.
      it mixed truth with fiction.
      now we have better way, one that sheds fiction in favor of truth alone.
      it's called science.
      time to put religion to bed.

      "You wouldn't be here if it were not for your descendants."
      ^^ captain obvious strikes again! ^^

      November 3, 2013 at 4:58 am |
    • berryrat

      Your descendants come along after you are born, not before. I think you meant ancestors?

      November 3, 2013 at 5:02 am |
    • tom

      So many more people would be here if religion did NOT exist! Religion invites murder on a mass scale.

      November 3, 2013 at 5:35 am |
  10. Rock Reynolds

    There is no such thing as "separation of church and state". "Separation of church and state" is an illusion brought to you by our Founding Fathers.
    There is no difference between governments and religions. Both types of organizations exist to control the mind of the followers.
    So-called "Atheists" claim that "Do Not Steal" from a religion is crazy, because the rule comes from an invisible dude in the sky. But write "Do Not Steal" in a local ordinance – that makes sense to an athiest.
    The quasi-God used by the Government is a mythical fairy tale called "people's mandate". You Athiests don't believe in God, but you think the government listens to you? How many people on this forum voted to aim guns at Syria a month ago?
    How much real input do you Athiests think you have with the government? Answer: Exactly the same amount of influence that others have with their "religions".
    You people who call yourselves athiest, are just sheep too.

    November 3, 2013 at 4:41 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      what you said makes little sense.
      you can vote for people to represent you. you cannot control every action they make while in office, but you can vote them out. even call a special election and kick them out early.
      we also get to vote on specific issues on the ballots.
      so your premise fails.

      November 3, 2013 at 4:44 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      you think people were allowed to steal and murder before chrsitianity? christianity gets credit for making those a no-no? lol.
      nothing in christianity is original.

      November 3, 2013 at 4:45 am |
    • berryrat

      I've never had an Atheist condemn me to hell for being a Wiccan. It wasn't an Atheist that passed the Witchcraft Act of 1604. I have had atheists call me out on my beliefs, but they never seem to want me to burn because of it.

      Christians, when they had absolute power, abused it and killed people. I hope they never wield that kind of power again.

      November 3, 2013 at 4:58 am |
      • Bootyfunk

        well said.
        i am an atheist. i have cousins that are wiccan.
        i don't agree with a lot of wicca, but wicca doesn't say kill g.ays and disrespect women.
        i don't agree with their explanation of the universe and how it works.
        but i don't run into nearly as much conflict with wiccans because i don't disagree with their tenets.
        christianity has some great sayings about love and helping those in poverty.
        but it also has a lot of cruel and disgusting commands.

        i've never had a wiccan condemn me to hell or say anything negative to me at all.

        November 3, 2013 at 6:31 am |
    • corridorwatcher

      Sheep no. Trying to get atheists (small "a" please) to go in one direction is like herding cats. Atheists acknowledge that there is no god to turn to and must be responsible themselves; government is a clumsy and inefficient tool, but it is better than Leviticus.

      November 3, 2013 at 5:35 am |
    • tom

      So according to you, all "Atheists" are pro-government? You are a sheep to the morons if you believe that, because even morons are higher up than you!

      November 3, 2013 at 5:39 am |
  11. Mark

    Christians who pray in public, apparently haven't read their Bible, for it specifically says in Matthew

    6:5 – And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.

    6:6 – But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

    I know the bible, better than most Christians do, which is partly why I'm an Atheist. I also have a very good education in the sciences, which destroys the nonsense called Christianity.

    November 3, 2013 at 4:33 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      studies show, generally atheists have more biblical knowledge than christians.

      November 3, 2013 at 4:37 am |
      • tom

        Bootyfunk, you are so correct in your statement it is not even funny.

        November 3, 2013 at 5:40 am |
    • Gaven

      Well said, Mark. If Christians actually read the bible (and subscribed to every last word), there would be a lot of daughters stoned to death on their wedding day by the townsmen, none of them would eat shellfish, none would wear mixed linens, none would work on Sundays, and the list goes on and on.

      This solidifies my beliefs that Christians, by and large, are nothing short of being cherry pickers that only take bits and pieces of scripture to back up their agenda of hate, bigotry, and prejudice against gays, women, and non-Christians.

      November 3, 2013 at 4:47 am |
      • Bootyfunk

        nail on the head, gaven.
        anyone that actually followed the bible's "instructions for good living" would be among the world's worst serial killer/mass murderers.
        modern christians cherry pick the bible, ignoring the crazy/cruel/silly passages. the closer a christian follows the bible, the crazier their views about life/universe.
        religions are going away, slowly but surely.
        buh-bye.

        November 3, 2013 at 4:54 am |
    • berryrat

      Heck, there are WIccans that have more biblical knowledge than many Christians I know. It would be great of most Christians practiced what they preach; unfortunately, that is becoming more rare as time passes.

      That's not to say that Christian beliefs are bad. There are many many good Christians doing great works. The thing that disappoints me the most is that many believe that hold (exclusively) the keys to divinity. That and the concept of hell are driving many people away from Christianity and back to God.

      November 3, 2013 at 5:09 am |
    • corridorwatcher

      Using a capital "A" in atheist reinforces the idea that one atheism is a religion. Better not to use it. My favorite bible story is the story of Lot. It's about an immoral dysfunctional debauching family. Don't read it to your children.

      November 3, 2013 at 5:38 am |
  12. Bootyfunk

    keep god, zeus, odin and ra out of gov't buildings

    want to pray to a deity?
    pray at home, pray at church, pray at a park
    pray BEFORE and AFTER work

    November 3, 2013 at 4:13 am |
    • Sue

      ?????

      November 3, 2013 at 4:22 am |
    • Sue

      $$$$$

      November 3, 2013 at 4:22 am |
    • Sue

      Let's toss out the Con sti tu tion so you don't get your feelings hurt.

      November 3, 2013 at 4:23 am |
      • truthprevails1

        What? The Constitution agrees with Booty-separation of church and state.

        November 3, 2013 at 4:29 am |
      • Bootyfunk

        const.itution, yes
        sky fairies, no

        November 3, 2013 at 4:36 am |
  13. Gaven

    I would love to see all these town hall meetings (and Congressional sessions) open up with prayers from all religions…Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Native Americans, Scientologists, Wiccans, Sikhs, Taoists, Olympians, Rastafarians, Jedists, Hindus, Confucianists, Shintos, Satanists, Pastafarianists, et. al.

    Every single religion should be represented, or none at all should be.

    November 3, 2013 at 3:56 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      since there are 33K sects of christianity alone, it would impossible to represent each. hinduism has even more. i vote for none.

      November 3, 2013 at 4:05 am |
      • Gaven

        That's my point, Booty. If they had to sit there and recognize every single religion/god in prayer before they started their town hall meeting (of Congressional session), they would finally realize how stupid it is to involve religion in government affairs.

        November 3, 2013 at 5:12 am |
    • ReasonableMuslim

      I am a Muslim, for as much as I love my faith, I would like to see all religion left out of the government properties. The government already does a great job of recognizing religious importance in people's lives and provides accommodating laws, tax-breaks and protections so that we can designate places (Mosques, Synagogues, Churches, Temples, etc.) specifically for worship and other religious functions.

      Sadly this issue is being made out to be "Atheists vs. Religious" when in fact the woman is correct in her assertion that the design of out government is separation of church(ostensibly all religion) and state......now if only we could do something to re-establish separation of powers/checks and balances, hmmmmm.

      November 3, 2013 at 4:48 am |
      • berryrat

        Very well said. Peace to you.

        November 3, 2013 at 6:22 am |
    • Judith

      Actually that is a great idea as it would take up all the time and they would not pass any stupid bylaws.

      November 3, 2013 at 5:02 am |
    • corridorwatcher

      Yes. But the time it would take would effectively closed down government.

      November 3, 2013 at 5:50 am |
  14. I'm Amazed

    It is amazing that you would want to allow your public servants to call for a prayer in front of non-religious people, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Jainists, Zoroastrians. Who or what do they want to pray to? Even Lutherans won't join in an ecumenical prayer because they know there is no accord. Such prayers are nonsense.

    November 3, 2013 at 3:11 am |
    • Cynthia Avishegnath

      i'm amazed that you are so right.

      Dear Christians, why do you strive to force your prayers on Hindus, Buddhists, Zoros, Taoists, Jains, etc? They will simply silently curse your god Jesus. Jesus said, "do not throw your pearls to swines". Not that I believe that we are swines, but your religion considers those who reject Jesus as swines.

      So we curse your Jesus god and then we go to h in eternal damnation. That is your motivation isn't? Keep the population of the "saved" small and select, even though Jesus is said to have said in John 14:2, "in my father's house are lots of room".

      People who demand public prayer must be Kelvinists (I meant Calvinists). They say that if you mention the name of Jesus and curse it, it meant it fell on infertile ground for many are called and few are chosen. Public prayer and the inducement of people to curse your god jesus is the Calvinist short-cut to spreading the gospel, a short-cut to the Great Commission of Matthew 28.

      Just throw the seed, and too bad that it fell on infertile ground. Quick and painless. Brilliant. Invite the unfit and infertile to desecrate the name of your god and quickly send them to wherever they were predestined to go.

      November 3, 2013 at 3:30 am |
      • Prometheus

        Agreed with this and Amazed 100%. We don't hate you Christians, we just don't want it shoved down our throats.

        November 3, 2013 at 3:50 am |
  15. Michael McCormick

    I don't understand why atheist get so upset or offended at anything at all about God, the devil, heaven or hell, if they don't believe in anything at all in the first place. Most atheist don't believe in Santa Claus or the Easter bunny either but they seem to have no problem with that, just keeping Christ out of Christmas and his death and resurrection out of Easter. I am a Christian but I'm not disrespectfully of the beliefs (or lack of beliefs) of others.

    November 3, 2013 at 3:03 am |
    • truthprevails1

      Atheists wouldn't have an issue if christians learned to keep it out of the public square and not try to make it the only belief system recognized.
      Easter and Christmas do not originally belong to christians, they are both pagan holidays taken over by christians as a way to convert pagans.
      As for Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, most people do not use them to try to tell others how to live and most people drop those silly imaginary friends before they becomes adults.
      You should stop with the persecution complex.

      November 3, 2013 at 3:13 am |
    • dee

      How would you feel if a druid, witch,or satanist were the person delivering the prayer? Would it be ok for Scientologists or Muslims to lead a prayer at your local town hall or school department meeting? Who gets to decide what a 'real' religion is?

      November 3, 2013 at 3:14 am |
      • Plastic

        The article said that the prayer was open to any and all denominations, heck, they even had a Wiccan give the prayer. It seems to me that the city has been as inclusive as they possibly can, yet that's not good enough for the Athiests.

        November 3, 2013 at 3:49 am |
        • corridorwatcher

          Atheist with a small "a" please. Actually, every Christian has their own belief system based on their cherry picking and personal discernment and interpretation of the bible-if they read it. So in every room where praying goes on, each has their own god, so what's the point?

          November 3, 2013 at 5:58 am |
    • glennrobert

      Both the religious and atheists hold positions that are not testable. There are no facts to support either side... Faith is a dangerous word.

      November 3, 2013 at 3:26 am |
      • truthprevails1

        Atheists hold one position and that is that we do not see evidence to support the belief in a god or gods, otherwise there is not much to it. We do not have faith. Faith is defined as belief without evidence and most of us happen to care that what we believe is true. We do have reasonable expectations based on the evidence provided and so far there is no evidence to support a god of any form.

        November 3, 2013 at 4:07 am |
      • stillwaiting aka Basho1644

        I disagree. To hark back to Carl Sagan's famous "There's a dragon in my garage" analogy (parody), believers assert that there's a dragon in their garage, and persistently dismiss the complete lack of evidence for this when nonbelievers point it out. Non believers simply point out that lack of evidence, and very reasonably refuse to accept the dragon's reality as long as evidence for it remains lacking. That's the difference. The onus of test falls on the extraordinary claim.

        November 3, 2013 at 4:24 am |
    • Gaven

      Michael, you are a part of the problem because you "don't see what the big deal is". You are a Christian, so of course it's not a problem for you. It's not just atheists that have an issue with government bodies invoking Christian ideology in government halls, it's people of all faiths. Why are Jews not being represented in prayer? Why not Muslims? Why not Satanists? Are we expected to believe that Christianity is the only acceptable form of religion that can be used in pre-government function prayer? It sure seems that way.

      The right solution is to make it a non-issue by removing all forms of prayer and religion from government business. Our government should not be in the business of religion. Religion is a personal mater and that is where is needs to stay. To advocate one religion over another creates bias and division, so it is best to leave them all out of the government arena all together.

      November 3, 2013 at 5:24 am |
  16. I'm shocked

    Some of you guys would advocate censorship over listening to something you don't like. Where is the logic in that? Especially since you are trying to censor something that means nothing to anybody other than the person doing the talking.

    November 3, 2013 at 2:59 am |
    • lerianis

      This isn't censorship. The Founding Fathers knew that allowing ANY demonstrations of religion on public grounds would sooner or later lead to various people trying to enshrine religion tenets into law.
      That is the specific reason why in NUMEROUS of their papers they said that NO religious displays, not even a prayer, were allowed on public property while governmental business was being done.

      November 3, 2013 at 3:08 am |
  17. I'm shocked

    One more time....so that everybody hears me..this is the United States of America in 2013 not the film Gladiator.

    November 3, 2013 at 2:55 am |
  18. I'm shocked

    I'm shocked that anybody actually read the bible.
    I'm shocked that anybody is offended by prayer.
    I'm shocked that anybody would care what or whom is being prayed too.
    I'm shocked that people could be so unpleasant to one another and for no good reason that I can see.
    I'm shocked that everybody...everybody talking about this sounds just like some bunch of extras off of one of those made for TV religious movies.
    This is hands down the weirdest thing I've ever seen.

    November 3, 2013 at 2:49 am |
    • Cynthia Avishegnath

      I would feel very oppressed when someone takes the podium in a town hall and starts declaring
      – All hail Mao Zedung, all hail Stalin, all hail ...

      But according to you, I should sit there with no measurable disgust or emotions.

      November 3, 2013 at 2:54 am |
      • I'm shocked

        Maybe you take words too seriously.

        November 3, 2013 at 2:56 am |
        • Gaven

          Maybe you are too stupid to understand why it is an issue to begin with.

          Yeah, I'm pretty sure that is the correct answer.

          November 3, 2013 at 5:26 am |
      • I'm shocked

        Better yet if you are disgusted use your ability to speak up...while you still can.

        November 3, 2013 at 3:03 am |
      • glennrobert

        I think you are confused. Confucianism is the philosophy or faith for many Chinese and the Russians are Christian eastern orthodox. Neither country thought their rulers were Gods.

        November 3, 2013 at 3:36 am |
        • Cynthia Avishegnath

          Mao Zedung was an anti-Confucian, fyi.

          November 3, 2013 at 5:10 am |
    • corridorwatcher

      Did you just open your eyes to this article yesterday?

      November 3, 2013 at 6:02 am |
  19. LIBTARD obamanation

    This woman is a prime example of the ones who throw a fit at holiday family gatherings when most of the family pauses to say grace before a meal. Liberal atheists are well known for throwing temper tantrums when they don't get their way.

    November 3, 2013 at 2:47 am |
    • Cynthia Avishegnath

      Don't force your Christian prayers on me. Don't throw me into the lions' den or into the burning cauldron because I refuse to bow down and worship an unfamiliar god, your Jesus god.

      November 3, 2013 at 2:56 am |
      • Plastic

        No one is asking you to get thrown to a lions den. All they want is a moment of silence in respect for something that they believe in. Sure, some Christians are in your face about it, and they are wrong, but a lot of Christians are respectful of others beliefs. What's so hard about showing respect for your fellow human?

        November 3, 2013 at 3:56 am |
        • dcobranchi

          They do NOT want a moment of silence. They want a moment to preach their good news. The complaint alleges that over a decade the prayers were almost always stain. Are there specifically xtian moments of silence?

          November 3, 2013 at 4:55 am |
        • Cynthia Avishegnath

          Have you actually been to public meetings where actual prayers are uttered??? We are discussing about those meetings not your mild natured "moments of silence".

          November 3, 2013 at 5:08 am |
        • Gaven

          Plastic, the very concept of why this is an issue completely escapes you, which makes you a part of the problem. It's not about respecting a Christian's right to believe what they want; it is about keeping church and state separate, which is how our country was set up. The halls of government aren't intended for religion. That is what the halls of churches are for. Our representatives don't march into churches and rattle off proposed laws, do they? No, they don't. So it only stands to reason that someone's personal religious beliefs are not expressed in a government function where the business of the legislation is on the agenda, not whose prophet walked on water or not.

          On a side note, I think it is hilarious that theists believe in angry sky daddies and tales of fiction. Seriously, if that is their source of guidance in a political arena, it is no wonder our country is as jacked up as it is. "Dear angry sky daddy...I am too stupid and uneducated to make legislative decisions on my own. Please guide my decisions with your infinite fictional wisdom so that America can prosper!"

          Friggin' idiots...every single one of them.

          November 3, 2013 at 5:32 am |
      • LIBTARD obamanation

        I'm not Christian, and I don't practice religion. I'm not forcing anything upon you. Are you delusional? It seems to me that you and the rest of the cowards who understand nothing about traditional values and morals are attempting to force your views upon those who disagree. You are a traitor to humanity.

        November 3, 2013 at 11:42 am |
    • JayT

      Sorry, but right-wing, religious radicals the Teapartiers have the cornerstone on crazy ranting and absurd, illogical behavior.

      November 3, 2013 at 3:05 am |
    • superbole

      With all that's wrong with religious organizations, I say that government must distance itself from any hint of endorsement. Clean up your act – stop the persecution of minorities, stop using your "god" as a reason to perpetrate tyranny, start acting as though you are part of humanity (rather than against it) – and maybe, just maybe the rest of us will stop complaining.

      November 3, 2013 at 3:09 am |
    • glennrobert

      As a Liberal agnostic, one of the things I was fighting in Korea (1953) was your right to practice your religion as you see fit and to leave others alone.

      November 3, 2013 at 3:41 am |
      • LIBTARD obamanation

        You couldn't have been fighting for my right to practice my religion, because you didn't know me. Add to that the fact that I don't practice religion so I'm obviously not a Christian, and what you think you were fighting for was in your own mind. I'm pretty sure the reason you were fighting was for a paycheck. Keep drinking your koolaid.

        November 3, 2013 at 10:38 am |
  20. t2vodka

    Religious people are so stupid, how hard is it to bow your head and say a prayer inside your head. Why must they always make it a public thing.

    November 3, 2013 at 2:42 am |
    • lerianis

      Exactly. Why can they not just say a prayer in their heads and leave the others who do NOT want those displays on public grounds out of it?

      November 3, 2013 at 3:02 am |
      • corridorwatcher

        Yes. That's how they hear to voice of god,a voice talking in there heads.

        November 3, 2013 at 6:06 am |
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About this blog

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.