Atheists Excluded from Mayoral Prayer Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other nontheistic Washington, D.C. residents will have no representation at Mayor-Elect Vincent Gray’s first official inaugural event—an ecumenical prayer service entitled “One City … Praying Together” at 8 a.m. Sunday, January 2, 2011.

“We would prefer that a government function such as an inauguration not be entwined with religion,” said Amanda Knief, a Humanist Celebrant and government relations manager for the Secular Coalition for America (SCA). “However, we find it overtly discriminatory when we request to be part of an ecumenical prayer service that is supposed to unite the entire city and are told there is no place for nontheists.”

Within hours of learning about the prayer service through a public press release on Monday, December 20, SCA contacted the mayor-elect’s transition team to request that a Humanist Celebrant be included.  After two days of repeated requests, a representative told SCA that the program for the prayer service was set and that nontheists would not be included.

“In fact, the transition team representative told us that he wished we would have reached out to them sooner,” Knief said. “How could we have done that without notification from the mayor-elect’s team? We hope that Mayor-Elect Gray will recognize the nontheistic community as part of the fabric of D.C. and include us in events such as this.”

Knief said that participation in the prayer service would have been about showing the community that a Humanist Celebrant can offer words of encouragement and inspiration without religion. “Secular Americans have much to offer their communities if allowed to participate.”

A Humanist Celebrant is the nonreligious equivalent of a clergyperson. He or she may receive national certification from several organizations, including The Humanist Society, the American Ethical Union, and the Society for Humanistic Judaism; and may conduct marriages, civil unions, memorial services, funerals, and other life ceremonies.

According to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, 15 percent of the adult U.S. population doesn’t identify with any religious group. The D.C. area has several secular groups including Washington Area Secular Humanists, Capitol Beltway Atheists, and Think Atheist.

Secular Coalition for America is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to increase the visibility of and respect for nontheistic viewpoints in the United States, and to protect and strengthen the secular character of our government as the best guarantee of freedom for all.

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