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. adibese

    Die religion... die.

    November 3, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      the internet and fact-checking are killing religion. but it'll take a while for the various cults to go away completely.

      November 3, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
      • Joe

        I am not so concerned about western nations, we already have religion reined in (even in U.S. where there is still some work to do), but countries under the grip of Islam have a long long way to go.

        November 3, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
      • Glenn Yokum

        They are going away in Europe.

        November 4, 2013 at 2:27 am |
    • William

      I agree. Die religion. We need more faithful. Not those filled with religiosity.

      November 3, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
    • Igaftr

      Die religion?...we haven't gotten that far....the best we have currently is Die agnostics... for example on a computer, you run Die agnostics.

      November 3, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
    • lol??

      Psa 2:1 Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?

      November 3, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
  2. centeredpiece

    What about the participants right to "free exercise of religion"? As long as the town board was inclusive in their invitations to offer the invocation, I don't see a problem. These are not small children having one religion preached at them by teachers; they are (one might presume) adults who are capable of withstanding differences in the "marketplace of ideas" that our civic society was supposed to be. Did Ms. Stephens volunteer to offer an atheistic non-prayer? I am constantly amazed at how a court can read the First Amendment as mandating the neutering of religious expression when its obvious intent was to do exactly the opposite – to guarantee FREE EXPRESSION OF RELIGION, as long as this did not amount to the government establishment of a religion. Having various clergy offer prayers at the start of a town board meeting is NOT "establishing" a religion. Placing a gag order on religious expression at town board meetings most certainly prohibits the free exercise of religion.

    November 3, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • Doris

      There has to be a line drawn somewhere. Look at what happened in Congress with that lunatic woman who interrupted the session with her ranting before the vote to get the government going again. It keeps things quite simple to just keep separate religious activity (time taken specifically for that) away from government business.

      James Madison, father of the Consti-tution & Bill of Rights came to oppose the long-established practice of employing chaplains at public expense in the House of Representatives and Senate on the grounds that it violated the separation of church and state and the principles of religious freedom. (Library of Congress – James Madison Papers – Detached memorandum, ca. 1823.)

      November 3, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
    • IslandAtheist

      Have a prayer on the city agenda of a government meeting is *RESPECTING* an establishment of religion.

      November 3, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      "What about the participants right to "free exercise of religion"?"
      +++ no one is taking away your right to religion. you can pray at home, you can pray at a church, you can pray at a park. we're just saying you can't pray at gov't meeting in a gov't building. no prayer in schools, no prayer in courtrooms. pray before work, it's not that difficult a concept.

      you cannot possibly include all religions or all thoughts on religion. and they're not doing that anyway. they have christian prayers and every once in a while invite someone from another religion so they can say they're inclusive. lol. they're not. if they were, they would divide the time equally between all religious views. instead, 95% of the time it's the christian view. gee, wonder if they're supporting one religion over others.

      why can't these people pray BEFORE work?

      November 3, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      According to the US Supreme Court, you have an unlimited right to believe whatever you like but you do not have an unlimited right to practice those beliefs whenever, wherever or however you like. They have upheld restrictions many times, most notably the ban on polygamy.

      What's wrong with "no religion government ever"?

      November 3, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
    • Jake

      Opening the meeting with a religious prayer implies that the meeting has something to do with religion and those there should be religious. If you're not religious, it makes you feel like you shouldn't be there and your views won't be heard. It's completely inappropriate in a public forum such as a government meeting. If people feel they need to pray before a meeting, that's fine – but don't make it part of the meeting and force anyone who wants to be involved be part of the meeting.

      I happen to despise religion because of what it does to children, among many other reasons. I don't want to be around it and shouldn't be forced to be around it to participate in a public meeting.

      November 3, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      One of the court's notions is that a government must have a compelling reason to allow or ban religious activities within its jurisdiction. What is the compelling reason to allow any religious activities as part of a government meeting?

      November 3, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
    • corridorwatcher

      Since I don't get my ya-ya's by contemplating sitting on the right hand of sadomasochist for all of eternity, but a return to where I was before I born, if I come to a government function I want to do business, not waste the little time I will have with this consciousness listen to a prayer or a moment of silence.

      November 3, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      "Did Ms. Stephens volunteer to offer an atheistic non-prayer?"
      +++ no, Ms. Stephens knew she was at a gov't meeting, not at a theological debate. thanks for pointing out that she had respect for the job they were supposed to be there to do and didn't want to push her views on the others. great point!

      November 3, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
      • G to the T

        Now that's the real Bootyfunk we've all come to know and love. Good point! FYI – there's a really lousy troll using your handle... badly...

        November 4, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
    • RC

      Religion/prayer simply has no place in a public/governmental forum-period!

      November 3, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Why do believers think they deserve special privileges?

      Religious bias has no place in our secular government. None. The job of our government is to represent all of it's citizens, not just the citizens who follow a particular faith. You are perfectly free to practice your religion in your home and in your church. You can preach on the sidewalk. But you can't advance your personal religion in government sponsored events. It's not fair, it's not right and it's in violation of our Constitution.

      November 3, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
  3. Bootyfunk

    keep religion out of the courts and classrooms.
    want to pray?
    pray at home, pray at church, pray at a park
    pray before you come to work

    November 3, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      If you pray at a park or other public venue, please be respectful of others around you. Please!

      November 3, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
      • Booh!

        How many chants of "hail satan" did I miss out on in life thanks to you two party poopers? How many Hari Krishnas?

        November 3, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
        • Bootyfunk

          i'll bite - how many?

          November 3, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
        • HotAirAce

          I don't know about you but I didn't miss any. And sorry for being a part pooper – that's just what parents and the near elderly do.

          November 3, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
        • Ann in S.D.

          Hot air, not just parents and the near elderly. That's also true of anybody who wants to take power over anybody else. "Because I said so" is often passed off as a rationale. One problem. The rest of America does not qualify as your kids.

          November 3, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
        • afzal

          People who insist on praying in civic environment are a bunch of show-offs.
          They are hypocrites wanting people to think they are close to God; in fact, they are far removed from God.
          The sincere pray and worship at home, in seclusion and humility; they do not make a public spectacle of it.
          What a shame!

          November 3, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
        • HotAirAce

          Ann, my apologies for a failed attempt at humour, but please note that I did not make an "because I say so" demand. I made a polite request with two pleases. Perhaps rather than going off on a tangent and assuming I want to be anyone's parents you could show us what was wrong with my request.

          November 3, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
        • Ann in S.D.

          Hot air, you don't need to apologize to me. As far as what is wrong your alias alone says what is wrong with it all. You are all making a big deal about a bunch of hot air.
          And Afzal I'm sure you are better at worshiping your religious icons whatever they may be than I would be. Good for you. But I maintain if people want to talk about deities or show them off so flippin' what?

          November 3, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
        • HotAirAce

          My alias is relevant to an activity completely unrelated to religion or my religious beliefs. I continue to use it here to give people such as yourself something to chatter about when they can't make a coherent point. Thanks for playing.

          Now, what was wrong with my polite request?

          November 3, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
        • CSinSC

          Ann, HAA is a hot air ballonist and a pilot. My goodness, but you jump to conclusions very quickly, don't you?

          November 3, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
  4. Jake

    I think all levels of government should open all meetings with a reading from the Ku Klux Klan bible. If anyone finds the views of the Klan disagreeable or offensive, they can just leave the room for that part or ignore it. If a black person complains about it, they're just making a big deal out of nothing and they should grow up.

    November 3, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • Jake

      For those of you who still don't get it: This is exactly what religious people sound like when they act like this isn't a big deal.

      November 3, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
      • Still don't get it

        Sorry your post is a fail. I've listened to a lot of religions none of them sounded even remotely close to what comes out of the mouth of the K3

        November 3, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
        • Observer

          Still don't get it,

          The Bible supports slavery. Read one.

          November 3, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
        • Glenn Yokum

          The old testament is one of the most violent books ever written.

          November 4, 2013 at 2:07 am |
        • Igaftr

          The KKK use the christian bible to justify their beliefs, especially what it says about the people of Ham ( the cursed ones with dark skin).

          November 3, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
        • Glenn Yokum

          The Klan is having fun in North Dakota trying to take over a really small town.  Serve them right to have to live there.

          November 4, 2013 at 2:23 am |
        • Jake

          The only thing that is a fail here is your ability to grasp the point. Opening a public meeting, which is supposed to be open to all citizens, with a religious prayer, which is offensive to many non-religious citizens, is inappropriate. It sends the message that the meeting is somehow related to religion and that non-religious people don't belong.

          November 3, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
    • Igaftr

      The KKK uses the christian bible.
      Excellent point though.

      November 3, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
      • Still don't get it

        It is not an excellent point he's being over dramatic

        November 3, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
        • Jake

          I'm not being over-dramatic. You clearly don't understand the importance of this subject.

          November 3, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
        • RC

          And you probably never will. Must be a b!thch when it hits that close to home though.

          November 3, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
        • Jake

          What an insightful post. Thanks for adding to the endless pile of evidence showing that religious people have a much larger proportion of idiots than atheists.

          November 3, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
  5. Severe PTSD as a result of ra-pe by clergy

    US law is over religious rules.. In the USA. religions rules and beliefs are treated in the same light as kid's tree house rules.

    November 3, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
  6. MC

    Separation of church and state at ALL levels of government!

    Any form of religion at any Governement meeting should be an act of treason!

    November 3, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
  7. Bill, NY

    This has been decided before it hits the High Court(and I do mean high). Scalia is on record as saying that the Devil is a real person, and is among us at this very moment. They should call it the Supreme Voodoo Court.

    November 3, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
    • There is proof, too!


      November 3, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
      • Igaftr

        The toaster is " possessed by Satan" but she won't get rid of it because it makes good toast.

        November 3, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
        • corridorwatcher

          The only thing proved here is someone scrapped words into burnt toast, and this lady needs to get a new toaster before she hurts herself.

          November 3, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
  8. Karin Werner

    There is a place called a church. Almost everyone knows what happens there. There is a place called a town meeting hall. Almost everyone knows what happens there. Since when is a town meeting suppose to be run like a church?

    November 3, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
    • Soe Naing

      Even in Russia or China, you start the meetings with "Pledge" of 'Something'. In North Korea, you might even have to sing for about the glorious 'Leader'. So lighten up.

      November 3, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
      • Severe PTSD as a result of ra-pe by clergy

        but try a christian prayer there.. Again, the poster made a great post.. keep your prayers in your voodoo castle, a church or cave

        November 3, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
      • Joe

        If others do stupid things, we should do them too? What kind of argument is that? They behead people in Saudi Arabia, so it should be fine if we just cut the feet off of someone convicted of stealing?

        November 3, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
  9. srcactus

    Busy body. Next will be suing because someone dislikes a lip stick color or a heel height on a pair of shoes. Get a life!!!

    November 3, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
    • Igaftr

      Do you have a cogent arguement in disagreement to WHY this woman sued, or is this just an ad hominem hit and run?

      November 3, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
      • srcactus

        My thoughts on this disagreeable grouch with apparently more money than brains has just as much right to be aired as her as her right to complain about others right to religious freedoms.

        November 3, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
        • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

          I will fight for you right to express your ignorance on the issue.

          November 3, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
        • Igaftr

          so your answer is ad hominem hit and run...thanks for playing.

          November 3, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
        • RC

          No it doesn't. She has a valid, legitimate point. You have nothing but an outdated fairy tale.

          November 3, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      This just shows your ignorance of the issue

      November 3, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
    • PA Teacher

      The only way for Christians to truly have some empathy is to start a government meeting or even the school day with a sentence about how there is not a God. Only then will they see the importance of the issue.

      November 3, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
      • HotAirAce

        And asking everyone there to verbally affirm what was said. . .

        November 3, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
      • etiendelamothecassel

        Excellent comparison, certainly something an attorney could point out.

        November 3, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
        • Glenn Yokum

          ��� As a agnostic I wonder why people have to pray out loud?

          November 4, 2013 at 2:00 am |
        • etiendelamothecassel

          LOL....if you ask me who stopped going to church years ago, it is just a group activity. Children praying out loud is another story.

          November 4, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
        • etiendelamothecassel

          spontaneous combustion?

          December 23, 2013 at 5:27 am |
        • etiendelamothecassel

          to be annoying

          December 23, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      You do understand that SCOTUS has upheld limits on the exercise of the 1st Amendment and that asking the government to follow the const!tution is not evil, or being a busybody?

      November 3, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
      • bootyfunk

        R u seriously suggesting someone cares?

        November 3, 2013 at 4:36 pm |
        • HotAirAce

          Given the number of times I've mentioned this and posed my "let's pretend" scenario, and the responses to date, I think that only atheists understand the problems that mixing religion into government poses to *all*, or are the only ones with the guts to admit there really is a problem. The rest, probably all christians, are too interested in maintaining their special place in today's society. Too bad for them their power and position are in decline. And yes, I realize posting this again is naive.

          November 3, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
    • Jake

      Fighting to put a stop to a gross violation of the principles our country was founded upon. You're right – what a loser. Get a life!

      November 3, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
      • srcactus

        The fact that this community has a meeting format that pleases such a vast majority of citizens would indicate that the objector will, in the end, spend gobs of money and still not get an invitation to the neighborhood bridge tournament or any of the other social events for that matter.

        November 3, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
        • Igaftr

          So that would make the "vast majority" christians, who would then turn around and NOT love their neighbor, right.

          How exactly does it make it right if it is the majority. If the majority wants to subvert the rights off the minorities, like whites not allowing blacks to shop, you think that is right?...since the blacks are in the minority, they should shut up?....seriously?

          November 3, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
        • G to the T

          Then I would say that's a reflection on the integrity (or lack there of) of the community, not a slight against the person trying to see that religious liberty is upheld.

          November 4, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
  10. darrin

    I hope she loses and the supreme court decides prayer stays , if she doesn't like it leave the room , dont listen ...
    We have takem God out of everything in this country and were worse off for it

    November 3, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
    • Igaftr

      First, no one has removed god from anything, second, you say we are worse for it.

      Examples please. Concise specific examples. Show your work.

      You are free to practice your religion in your home, in your church, in your head. It is inappropriate for you to interject it into government functions.

      Do you think it would be appropriate that we start your church services with government business?

      November 3, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
    • One one

      Really? What have we taken god out of and how has that made us worse off ?

      November 3, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
    • The Truth

      Sounds like you want to live in Saudi Arabia.

      November 3, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
      • corridorwatcher

        Where you can get whipped for religious infractions? Why would anyone want to do that,

        November 3, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      I agree Darin, I think holding a Catholic Mass before a city counsel meeting would show God we care.

      November 3, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
    • Chris

      Something tells me that if it was a muslim community, led by a muslim prayer every day, forcing christians citizens out of a government office to go wait out in the hall you'd be singing a completely different tune.

      If you're a Christian, I got news for you, you're a bad one.

      November 3, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
    • Prof cal

      I would like to schedule a meeting with God to complaint about his inabilities to stop terrorist attacks, gun violence, diseases, natural disasters, school shootings etc etc. He will basically do nothing to protect the innocents. Well, wait a minute....he does not exist.

      November 3, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
      • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

        God is mad because the CHristians are allowing woman to talk in church....

        November 3, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
        • HotAirAce

          So it's behaving like Senator Lindsey Graham? It's not going to attend another meeting or save any innocents until women are silenced? Good luck with that!

          November 3, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
    • mjbrin

      If your god is all powerful how can anyone take him out? that always confused me

      November 3, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
      • HotAirAce

        I didn't know it was dating? Can I arrange a hookup via ChristianMingle.com? Do you think it has read the Kama Sutra or does it hold to only catholic positions?

        November 3, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
      • Glenn Yokum

        We are worse off for what.  This is the safest time in history.

        November 4, 2013 at 2:20 am |
  11. One one

    In fairness to all religions, I propose opening city board meetings with a voodoo skull dance.

    November 3, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
    • Karin Werner

      I say we observe every religious practice, including every belief system that doesn't hold a belief in a god. This will be the only fair way to observe everyone's belief system. Or, we can scratch it all together.

      November 3, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
      • Chris

        We can scratch it all together.

        November 3, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      I think a Pagan Ritual or maybe a Sun Dance to start would be good.

      November 3, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
  12. reasonablebe

    religion is a personal matter. it does not belong in government sponsored anything.

    November 3, 2013 at 1:20 pm |
  13. HotAirAce

    Let's pretend. . .

    You are attending a town council meeting to ask them to modify a zoning regulation so that you can open a group home for female victims of domestic violence and their children under the age of six.

    You must be present at the start of the meeting because there will be a number of agenda items of varying and uncertain lengths – the council cannot tell you exactly when you will be presenting.

    If you are not present when you are called upon, you may not get another chance to make your request for some time.

    They open the proceedings with a religious ritual but you do not participate as that would be counter to your beliefs. Members of council openly glare at you as a result.

    Are you confident that you will be treated fairly when you make your request?

    Why should citizens or legislators expose, implicitly or explicitly, their religious beliefs as part of doing government business, unless that is their individual wish?

    What is wrong with "no religion in government ever"?

    November 3, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
    • Chuckles

      Here here!

      November 3, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
    • Agnostic

      I'd participate. I don't see any reason not to.

      November 3, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
      • Chuckles

        So you're an agnostic, but you don't mind praying to something you think may or may not exist?

        Why not just go to church? or pass out pamphlets about christianity? I mean, why not right?

        I am aware that participating in a prayer at a town hall meeting isn't tantamount to proselytizing but does it not disturb you a little that in order to be heard fairly you have to practice someone elses religion in a government setting?

        If you are an agnostic that errs on the side of "probably does exist but who knows", then fine, the prayer wouldn't bother you as much. But for an agnostic atheist like myself who believes that god most likely does not exist and that religion is hurting rather than helping, I'd rather hold onto my morals and not participate in some misguided ceremony rather than compromise my integrity to simply be heard at a meeting that I should have the right to be heard at in the first place.

        November 3, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
        • Igaftr

          Bingo Chuckles.
          Silence or going along with something, is often taken to mean acceptance.
          It is only by making oneself heard that the issue gets examined.

          November 3, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
      • HotAirAce

        I suppose that a true agnostic or someone with no deep or committed religious views wouldn't have a problem with "going with the flow" in order to achieve their goal but I don't think that would be true for someone with deeply held beliefs. Rather than setting a calm and deliberate tone for the meeting, the religious ritual might actually disrupt the meeting, perhaps just by "poisoning the air" or maybe more significantly by distracting from the council's real business.

        Why should citizens be subjected to these risks while conducting business with the government?

        What's wrong with "no religion in government ever"?

        November 3, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • tallulah13

      It's astonishing how some people just don't understand, or simply don't care as long as they are not the ones being discriminated against.

      November 3, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
      • Igaftr

        We have another Bingo.
        It is the inability to put yourself into the other point of view that causes mcuh of it, coupled with apathy that people do not see the point, and then criticize the individual, not because of what they are doing, but because the criticizer does not understand the reasons behind it.

        November 3, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
  14. deep blue

    The problem is that the government has a process to select the person leading the opening prayer. That process will inherently endorse some religions over others.
    The solution is, make the process secular, and delegate to elected officials, who may be religious. For instance, have a rotating schedule of legislators select someone to ceremonially open the meeting. Obviously, most of the legislators are Christian, so they will pick Christian speakers to lead in prayer, but some may choose other groups or even atheist speakers. This way the process is secular.

    November 3, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
    • deep blue

      I'm sure some groups would even recommend speakers to the legislators, so it would be no added work for the legislators to volunteer to do this.

      November 3, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
    • Ford Prefect

      Why have a ceremony, secular or otherwise, to start a meeting?

      November 3, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
      • deep blue

        we don't need to, but some people want a prayer, so I'm telling them how it can be done.

        November 3, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
        • HotAirAce

          Why not just say "no"?

          What's wrong with "no religion in government ever"?

          November 3, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
    • rdeleys

      And just how does that make it secular?

      November 3, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
  15. Ford Prefect

    The Vogon construction fleet will soon come and straighten this whole mess out. Everyone have their towels, peanuts and beer?

    November 3, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
    • Igaftr

      But Earth is mostly harmless...why pick on us?

      November 3, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
      • Ford Prefect

        Late entry to the guide-
        mostly harmless...except for religious zealots.

        November 3, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
  16. Russ

    Nobody should have to sit in a public governmental meeting and hear prayers by religions that they don't believe in.

    November 3, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
    • Yeah right

      Goddess forbid either side of you guys should sit and listen to someone else's point of view for once.

      November 3, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
      • sam stone.

        no one should be forced to listen to others point of view on religious matters

        November 3, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
      • Thought of the Day

        Is prayer a point of view?

        November 3, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
        • Alias

          If I offered a prayer to Satan, some people would think so

          November 3, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
        • Opie L.

          I think a prayer to satan would be hilarious.

          November 3, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
        • rp1588

          When I review the support of the US public for pro-war candidates and warriors, I would say Satanism is by far the most popular form of Christianity in USA. Remember, Satan works in disguise, and that disguise is as Christ.

          November 3, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
      • poopmeister

        Everyone, except for Christians, know the point of view of the Bible and Jesus....that's the problem. Look at the Christian right, they are the ones that want to get rid of the welfare state, whichs is a direct opposition of what Jesus stood for. That makes no sense to me, I feel like Christians can resite passages all day but truly do not know what is good for their fellow man. Does making others uncomfortable with your prayers not fall somewhere in there....maybe a little consideration to make others in the room comfortable besides the believers?

        November 3, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
  17. Grandma

    Which of the following old folks activities are offensive

    a.) Knitting
    b.) Eating a piece of hard candy
    c.) prayer

    Which of the following boring activities can get you sued

    a.) watching the grass grow
    b.) watching paint dry
    c.) praying

    Which unstoppable activity "must" be stopped

    a.) day dreaming
    b.) affirmations
    c.) prayer

    November 3, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
    • geraldine

      Well to be fair, for a while there, macrame got out of hand.

      November 3, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
      • tallulah13

        And does anybody really need a toilet paper cozy?

        November 3, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
    • niknak

      When in doubt, Charlie out!!

      November 3, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
    • poopmeister

      1. B: Eating candy is something that an old person should not do....it promotes Diabetes
      2. A: Watching grass grow on private property could result in legal action.
      3. A: Daydreaming, especially about things that don't exist, should be stopped now!!!

      November 3, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
      • Grandma

        Oh my no daydreaming? How do you plan to stop that I wonder.

        November 3, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
        • Real Deal

          If you are harassing others with it, you will be removed from class and sent to the principal's office... don't you remember?

          November 3, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
        • poopmeister

          Sorry, I was being a wise guy because I think your post was being condescending. Nobody is suggesting that prayer should be outlawed or anything of the such....it needs to have a home. Either in the prayer's head or in church or any other venue that is religiously inspired....government not being one of them. I am Buddhist but I wouldn't want to hear passages from the Dharma being spouted at an unusual arena. My faith is too important to be in a misplaced venue. Praying more often or in venues that they shouldn't be, weakens the importance.

          November 3, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
    • Real Deal


      What part of "at government functions" did you miss reading?

      Pray all you like, just don't harass others with it.

      November 3, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
    • heywaitaminit

      Matt. 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."

      November 3, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
      • heywaitaminit

        D'oh. Stupid computer, double posting.

        November 3, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
    • heywaitaminit

      As Jesus told people, according to Matt. 6:5-6
      "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)But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you."

      November 3, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
    • One one

      Hey grandma, you can pray all you want. You can also pick your nose all you want. But some things are best done privately. No good reason to make a public display of it.

      November 3, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I have a great respect for my elders (and I'm fast approaching "elderness" myself). You can do what you want with your time. Good for you.

      However, prayer has no place in government-sanctioned events. It's a simple concept: Equality through editing. Remove all extraneous content that has no place in our Constitutionally secular government. Prayer is not necessary for government work, therefore it should not be paid for by tax dollars.

      November 3, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
    • KHS

      You are twisting facts. Absolutely no one says old folks cannot pray. Prayer has only no place at official government functions because those who believe differently are forced to take part in the ceremony or feel excluded.

      November 3, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
  18. ohyoudidntKnow

    Where was was God on 9/11? Hmmm, that I can not answer but I bet one of the things he was doing was watching humans continue to do evil to each other, then blame him for allowing it to happen. All this talk of how science has given you the secrets to the world, but has not taught you to take responsibility for your own actions. You speak of the evils that were committed in the name of religion, are you suggesting those things would not have taken place if religion was not around? Are you suggesting that if someone commits a crime, and states they did so in your name that you should be held responsible as well? No, I didn't think so but this is the logic you apply when it comes to religion. It seems to me the only thing that will end these arguments is time, my only question is when the answer is revealed what side of the argument do you want to be on? Believer or Not?

    November 3, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
    • Chuckles

      I can make the claim that 9/11 had a much much lower chance of happening had religion not existed. Considering it happened due to Imams declaring a jihad against christian America and this is all done invoking god and religion, its pretty safe to as.sume that removing god from the equation could have stopped 9/11 from happening.

      You are claiming your god is omnipotent, that's enough right there to wonder exactly why your god allows the massive amounts of evil to occur to his own followers on a daily basis and sits back and does nothing, or in some cases can be attributed to actively helping (tornandos earthquakes, hurricanes, etc...).

      If someone does evil in my name it would depend on who I am. If I am just a random figure that literally had little to no influence on this person, no I shouldn't be blamed. However, if I'm a cult leader and encourage people to do evil acts then yes, I should share in that blame. Simple as that.

      Hold your god responsible once and a while, its really that simple. Why should your god who is master of the universe, omnipotent, omnipresent and loves everyone get away with the murder, mayhem and hate that happens all the time that comes directly from "his word". The bible created and bolsters people like the WBC.

      November 3, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
      • ohyoudidntKnow

        Hold him responsible? I do that quite often. I hold him responsible for the daily blessings that I receive that improve my quality of life and allow me to do the things I love doing. What I don't hold him responsible for is the bad things that befall me, that upon further review even I can see were a result of my own poor choices or just apart of life. Something you should have been taught growing up is that some people will find any reason in the world to hate you, no matter what you do. The whole jihad thing is only part of the reason people on that side of the world hate America. To make a long story short life is not that great over there, then they turn on a tv and see life over here that's reason enough for them (they just hot). What you are looking for is a magic lamp. One you can rub and erase all the mistakes you and other make. Let me ask you a question if that wish came with erasing some of your fondest memories would you still make it?

        November 3, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
        • Chuckles

          That's incredibly foolish.

          You only attribute the good things that happen to you to god and not the bad? That's not holding god responsible, that's just diminishing your own accomplishments and deepening your own guilt over the bad.

          Sure, hate will exist in this world, regardless of religion or not. No one is claiming otherwise. However, I'm not claiming that getting of religion would remove evil, or a simplistic mind would think that. What I am claiming though is that religion makes a lot of good people do evil things.

          Your simplistic view of why the other side of the world "hates America" is just the sort of ignorance I'd expect from someone who is doesn't understand the full scope of the world and probably doesn't even own a passport let alone never having actually traveled over there. Most people in the middle east don't sit around, bemoaning their hatred of America all day everyday. You might be surprised at how happy people actually are over there. The folks that stay out of it, who live their lives in comfort don't give a hoot about America. We have different degrees of comfort than they do and what they see in America is pure excess, not luxury, and who can blame them? We're an incredibly wasteful culture, resource grabbing and one of the biggest contributors to global warming. You are right that the hatred of the infidels is only part of the problem, but a solid amount of that hate is our doing by taking their resources and then throwing it into a landfill.

          I don't know where you got that "magic lamp" analogy other than being subtly rac.ist, but lets pretend you weren't and address the question, would I erase all my mistakes in exchange for all the fond memories too? To be honest, I don't know. My mistakes are incredibly valuable to me (moreso than my fond memories actually) so I don't know if I would want to erase all of those formative times in order to have a clean slate. However, would I erase my mistakes and fond memories in order to undo some terrible things in the past like the Holocaust, or 9/11? Probably, I would be more than happy to save millions of lives if it meant changing my own.

          November 3, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
        • ohyoudidntKnow

          @Chukcles First point – so by your logic I should do the opposite, I should give myself full credit for the good things (even though I can see some of those things defy explanation), and attribute the bad things (that even upon my review I can see how MY choices led to the result) to God. Seems to me there's a huge flaw in that logic. Second point – "religion makes good people do evil things", you make an assumption that they were "good" before they did the "evil thing". I view this differently while I do believe that "all have sinned" I don't think people are born good or evil. I believe the choices they make in life determine that. So the choice they made seems to contradict your assessment of their "goodness". Third point – you seem to lack the ability to discern when a person is utilizing humor to lighten an otherwise tense topic. From this point on I will inform you when I'm using such a tactic. Fourth point – "I don't know where you got that "magic lamp" analogy other than being subtly rac.ist" this is often a tactic used by people to juxtapose two unrelated issues in an effort to undermine the opposing argument, or credibility of the opposing arguer. My analogy was addressing your desire more for a magic genie to grant your every wish more than desire to know a God concerned with addressing your needs. No one injected race into this discussion but you, and it was a weak attempt at that. Since you seem to claim to have been in that part of the world, rather than blame religion for the hate in the heart of extremist, could we not as easily blame you for not leaving them with a better understanding of life over here. I sure you would say "no, cause you are not able to control the hearts of men as God is" at which point I would remind you that God gave us all free will and to rob us of that would not be very loving.

          November 3, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
        • Chuckles

          First: Yes, give yourself full credit where credit is due and blame god for things that clearly were out of your control. Holding god responsible means for both good and bad. I want to highlight something you mentioned though. what exactly defies explanation? Have you experienced a miracle (aka something the breaks a physical law?) or are you just saying that the coincidence of something happening seems too great to your mind that it must have been something other than a coincidence?

          Second: If a person who volunteer work once a week. Works hard at their job, is successful in both a professional and personal setting, would you call that person good? Now what if that same person expels one of their children from the house because that child is gay which the bible prohibits? Does that make the person evil regardless of how many other good things he/she does? I would say that person is still good but did an evil thing that is directly from their religious leanings. Yes, evil people will do evil things, good people will do good things but religion has a way of making good people do evil things.

          Third: Saying "just kidding" doesn't erase a rac.ist remark. If you think you were being humorous, I would recommend getting better at it.

          Fourth: You make a dumb comment about middle easterners and then talk about magic lamps.... You were begging to have those juxtaposed, and moreover I don't need to attack the arguer to show the bad logic that is in the argument itself. Showing your foolishness is just a perk of the job.

          For all intents and purposes your god is a genie, just a really poor one that doesn't have to obey the wishes of humans. That's the main problem with your god, he chooses not to help in the face of evil. You would rather bend over backwards trying to justify why god would do this (men have free will blah blah blah) rather than hold god accountable.

          Yes, I have been to that part of the world, but please tell me how you can completely change an entire culture and their values? My telling a bedouin in the middle of the Negev how much better it is in America because I say so seems to be what you imagine Americans can do. Yeah, go over there and saying how great it is to have a washer and dryer in my apartment so I can do my laundry without lifting a finger, to them seems like lazy excess and no amount of my telling them otherwise will change their minds. Do you honestly not understand cultural differences in the world? Seriously, travel outside the US sometime and not just to Canada, or resorts in Mexico or even just Western Europe. Get outside your comfort zone for once, go to somewhere completely foreign and you might learn that American patriotism is more of an illusion and our "greatness" is a smokescreen.

          November 3, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
    • My opinion

      In my opinion it's like trying to stop a foot ball game by taking away the mascot

      November 3, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
      • Chuckles

        Care to elaborate exactly? The mascot is not integral to football games, however it's pretty clear that religion was a driving force in 9/11 and many many many other conflicts that arise both grand and small.

        Your analogy makes no sense whatsoever. I suggest you try again.

        November 3, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Yet another version of Pascal's Wager. . .

      November 3, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
    • What IF

      "...my only question is when the answer is revealed what side of the argument do you want to be on? Believer or Not?"

      This is another tired repeti.tion of Pascal's Wager - thoroughly refuted since the 17th century

      - What if the real "God" is Allah, or Vishnu, or Zeus, or Quetzalcoatl, or any of the other of thousands which have been dreamed up over the centuries? Some of them are very jealous and vengeful and will relegate you to nasty places for not worshiping them. You'd better cover your butt by believing in ALL of them and fulfill their wishes and demands.

      - What if the real "God" prefers those who use logic and reason and punishes you as a silly sycophant?

      - What if the real "God" detests those who believe something just to cover their butts in eternity?

      November 3, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
      • Elena

        $ionista controlled CNN only post those comments in favor of destroying cristianity.

        November 3, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
        • midwest rail

          Delusional nonsense.

          November 3, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
        • fyi


          Look on page #17 of these comments for a list of hints about the automatic word filter.

          November 3, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
      • ohyoudidntKnow

        that was a really deep statement, yet you failed to answer the question that you state has been refuted? It's a simple question not sure why you're having trouble with it. To me a belief in "all" is the same as a belief in "none". I was also not suggesting that you should act like you believe merely to "cover your butt". I'm saying if I were to die today, and time proved that my faith was misplaced looking back I would not have changed a thing. Can you say the same?

        November 3, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
    • poopmeister

      Belief has never stopped something from happening to someone, it only inspires people to do heinous acts to others. Faith is not an invisible forcefield. Many good religious people have died in early age and for no good reason and people of religion need to stop saying that it is "God's will". The planet cannot be sumed up by what people follow as their religion, it has to be defined by their acts. I see far too many people doing shady things and they are usually the ones hiding behind God and think they are serving mankind but all they are doing is judging and preaching....not helping.

      November 3, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
    • Prof cal

      So, God pretty much had no power to stop the evil on 9/11. He ( why not she) watched his children dying.

      November 3, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
      • Rhea

        It's called Free will, ever heard of it?

        November 3, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
        • Owl


          Ever hear of this "God" character of yours trumping free will?

          Who is going to "heaven":

          "And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed." - Acts 13:48

          "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate.... Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified." - Romans 8:29-30

          "Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began." - 2 Timothy 1:9

          "He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will." - Ephesians 1:4-5

          "God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation." - 2 Thessalonians 2:13

          and who is going to hell:

          "God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned." - 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12

          "For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation." - Jude 4

          November 3, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
        • sam stone.

          rhea: free will is inconsistent with an omniscient god

          November 3, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
        • Glenn Yokum

          Good point.  The God of the old testament was vicious!

          November 4, 2013 at 2:16 am |
  19. Kevin M. Cunningham

    American hypocrisy at it's glorious heights! All the rightwing xenophobes wanted and demanded war against those middle eastern countries who had islamic governments in power screaming that they were using their religion to attack the west. Yet here the very thought of not having some religious convocation at the beginning of a government meeting is met with outrage. Religious beliefs should be personal and not foisted on the masses.

    November 3, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
    • Alias

      Excellent point.

      November 3, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
  20. donkey punch

    God deliberately hides himself from humanity. He doesn't want anyone to contemplate his existence. And there's no reason to. There's nothing to imply gods anyway. Here we r. Little earth. Sun. Some birds. That's about it

    November 3, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
    • If I were a god

      If I were a god I'd hide too. Look at all of us.

      November 3, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • No one of consequence

      Then why is God always showing up in oil puddles and grilled cheese sandwiches?

      November 3, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
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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.