AU|SLO in the News
Arroyo Grande City Council Votes to End Invocations
December 10, 2014
The Arroyo Grande City Council voted 3 to 2 last night to end invocations at city council meetings and replace them with a moment of silence. The vote came after public comments by members of Atheists United, San Luis Obispo (AU- SLO), a number of whom were residents of Arroyo Grande.
AU-SLO board member David Leidner told the council that they had a “golden opportunity to ensure fairness” by ending all invocations. “This is the best option not because it favors our interests or anyone else’s,” he said, “but because it does just the opposite. It is the most neutral and inclusive position to take.”
The city council’s reconsideration of their existing invocation policy was sparked by a request from AU-SLO to start giving invocations at Arroyo Grande city council meetings. AU-SLO’s request was in response to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling allowing sectarian invocations at government meetings. Voting in favor of replacing invocations with a moment of silence were Mayor Hill, Mayor Pro-Tem Barneich, and Councilman Guthrie. They said they wanted to avoid the complication of trying to accommodate all invocation requests and the risk of alienating or offending meeting attendees. Voting in opposition to the change were Council Members Brown and Harmon. The council meeting minutes and video can be viewed at www.arroyogrande.org/AgendaCenter/City- Council-8.
Local News Coverage of This Story:
Invocation for Paso Robles City Council Meeting Delivered by AU/SLO Board Member Kim McGrew
September 2, 2014
Good evening. Please be seated. My name is Kim McGrew, and like many of you in this room, my family has lived here for 4 generations. I’m proud to be a participating member of this community, as I’m sure you are, too. I am also on the Board of Directors of Atheists United, SLO and come with an invocation for reason.
Most invocations in this room begin with a request to bow your heads. I would like to ask you not to bow your heads. I would like to ask that you take a moment to look around the room at all of the men and women here working toward improving the lives of the people of our community.
Rather than bowing our heads and closing our eyes in deference, we should open our eyes widely to face the reality that confronts us, without losing sight of our ideals of what we could achieve.
In this room there are sometimes challenging debates and moments of tension and frustration. But this is also a room where, as the secular humanist tradition stresses, by the very fact of being human, we have much more in common than we have differences.
In order to achieve the greatest good for our community, it is important for us to maintain an open mind, and to honor and respect the human rights of each other. We should consider the benefit provided by differing perspectives, and be willing to question assumptions that serve only to obstruct our path to progress. In this room let us celebrate our shared capacity for reason and compassion and our dedication to the people of our community. Let us root the policymaking process in these values that are relevant to all in our community regardless of religious belief or non belief. In the decision making process, please be guided by your knowledge, your experience, your education, and upon sound scientific evidence. We must remember that in the face of adversity we need not look above for answers, but instead recognize the proven potential within ourselves and in each other to overcome any challenges we face.
AU/SLO Statement on Supreme Court Decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway
May 8, 2014
While we are disappointed in the Supreme Court's recent ruling to allow official sectarian prayer at government meetings, we applaud Pismo Beach for doing the right thing by ending this exclusionary practice in our community. The Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway reversed a unanimous ruling by the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals that ruled sponsoring mostly Christian prayers during town meetings violated the US Constitution. It's worth noting that the new ruling does not acquit Pismo Beach because the City was still in violation of the California Constitution, which articulates clearer boundaries between church and state, including that a government cannot "grant anything to or in aid of any religious sect, church, creed, or sectarian purpose" (like an official timeslot for prayers.)
If they haven't already, we hope other governments in our community will follow Pismo Beach's lead and do away with designated time for prayer at their meetings. Public prayer does nothing to aid in governing a town or city; it only serves to alienate and divide its citizens.
Pismo Beach Votes to End Prayer at Council Meetings, Fire Chaplain
April 16, 2014
The Pismo Beach City Council voted yesterday evening to accept an agreement with the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) and a local member of Atheists United San Luis Obispo (AU/SLO) to end all prayers at council meetings and eliminate the city chaplaincy
After a closed session at last night's city council meeting, the City Attorney reported that the Council had voted 3-0 to authorize him to accept a stipulated judgment with the plaintiffs to pay each $1 in nominal damages, discontinue the city chaplaincy, and cease "scheduling, coordinating, inviting, delivering, or otherwise participating in prayers, invocations, or religious rituals at the opening, immediately proceeding, or following, council meetings."
City Council members Vardas and Reiss did not attend last night's meeting, at which no invocation was given.
"We are very happy the city of Pismo Beach has decided to end this exclusionary and unconstitutional practice and make their government meetings welcoming to all citizens," said David Leidner, AU/SLO board member.
The settlement between FFRF and Pismo Beach will be reviewed by San Luis Obispo superior court Judge Martin Tangeman, who is expected to sign it and make it legally binding.
Atheists United SLO is a local non-profit organization that aims to create a supportive community for atheists, agnostics, and rationalists in San Luis Obispo County. AU/SLO encourages critical thinking about religion, advocates for the separation of church and state, and strives to demonstrate the positive aspects of atheism.
Local News Coverage of This Story:
FFRF v. City of Pismo Beach
Freedom From Religion Foundation v. City of Pismo Beach: Frequently Asked Questions
So what’s the issue?
The Pismo Beach City Council begins each meeting with an official Christian prayer. At almost every meeting, everyone is asked to stand while the city-appointed chaplain, a Pentecostal clergyman, leads prayers that espouse a particular brand of Christianity. These prayers call upon “Christ our lord” and “our personal savior”, accuse listeners of immorality, and exhort them to obey a particular Christian doctrine.
Atheists United SLO (AU/SLO), whose members live, work, and play in Pismo Beach, asked the City Council, in writing and in person, to stop the prayers. Receiving no response, AU/SLO contacted the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) which also wrote a letter to the City Council asking them to cease the unconstitutional prayers. After receiving no response as well, FFRF filed a lawsuit against the City of Pismo Beach.
Isn’t it legal to have religious invocations at government meetings?
The Pismo Beach City Council prayers are an official part of each meeting and are overtly Christian. It is a violation of the California State Constitution for a government to align itself with any religion. The City also maintains an official City Chaplaincy. This also is prohibited by the state constitution.
Are the prayers really overtly Christian?
AU/SLO and FFRF transcribed and analyzed all 126 prayers given at the Pismo Beach City Council meetings from January 1, 2008 through October 15, 2013 and found the following:
- One-hundred and twenty-two of the prayers used specific Christian honorifics to refer to god:
- 67 “in the name of our personal Savior and Lord”
- 33 were similar but with additional or varied Christian embellishment
- 5 in the name of “Christ our Lord”
- 1 in his name as “Your Son and our Savior”
- 6 in the name of Christ the “Redeemer”
- 7 “in the name of the Lord” with varying embellishment
- 1 to “great god our king.”
- Only Christianity was represented in all but one of the prayers. Christian clergymen delivered 123 of the prayers: the City Chaplain, a Pentecostal clergyman, gave 112 prayers and other Christian clergymen gave 11 more. Two prayers given by non-clergy still invoked the Christian god.
- The sole non-Christian prayer-giver was a Hindu cleric who gave the invocation on October 1, 2013, reading quotes from Hindu scripture and addressing the Hindu god, thus making his prayer just as sectarian as the Christian prayers.
- The City Chaplain referenced the Bible no less than 88 times, most often referring to it as the “Holy Scripture.”
- The prayers frequently include evangelical Christian themes of sinfulness and obedience to the Christian Bible. Some examples:
- “May we seek the Lord and obey the Bible…Cause our mayor, her colleagues, and their support staff to sense your divine leadership and wisdom in each decision that they make…And cause each of us, as individuals and as a nation, to repent of our sins and turn wholeheartedly to honor you and to serve you. This invocation we pray in the name of our Blessed Redeemer and Lord. Amen.” (3/17/09)
- “And god is always true to his character, as we seek his face and prayer and respond to his holy promise in the Scriptures, it will change the way we think and the way we behave. For sin and spiritual decline removes the favor of god, but if we repent, god will forgive and pardon our sins, and replace them with his righteousness in our lives.” (5/5/09)
- “Many of our citizens and leaders have turned from the path of righteousness in our lives and lifestyles… Cause us to elect leaders who will stand up for the clear standards that are expressed in the Bible, the holy writings of god.” (10/16/12)
But is there any real harm?
Every person who has business with the Pismo Beach City Council must first listen to a city-sponsored prayer given by a city-appointed chaplain exhorting citizens to adhere to a particular brand of Christianity. It’s not hard to see how this could alienate someone who does not share those beliefs, including Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, non-believers, and other Christians, among others.
So what is the goal of the lawsuit?
The request, which was previously made to the City Council in writing and in person, is simple: stop the official prayers and stop sponsoring a city chaplain.
Who is Atheists United SLO and why does this concern them?
Atheists United SLO is a meeting place for all atheists, humanists, rationalists, skeptics, doubters, agnostics, and other non-believers to get to know each other, share ideas and build a community of like-minded individuals in San Luis Obispo County. We encourage critical thinking about religion, advocates for the separation of church and state, and strives to demonstrate the positive aspects of atheism.
We are dedicated to protecting everyone’s right to a government free from religion and oppose any government activity that discriminates against people based on their religious beliefs or non-beliefs.
Who is the Freedom From Religion Foundation and how are they involved?
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (www.FFRF.org), a national non-profit IRC 501(c)(3) educational charity that defends the constitutional separation between state and church, and educates the public about the views of non-theists.
After being contacted by Atheists United SLO, the Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote a letter to Pismo Beach asking them to stop the prayers. Receiving no response from the City, the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit against the City.
How can I learn more?