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 Council-8.

Local News Coverage of This Story:

Story in the San Luis Obispo Tribune (Dec 10, 2014)
Editorial in the San Luis Obispo Tribune (Dec 11, 2014)
KEYT/KCOY (Dec 10, 2014)
Friendly Athiest Blog (Dec 10, 2014)


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.

Story in the San Luis Obispo Tribune

Atheists United SLO Board Member Dave Leidner Speaks With KVEC Radio Host Dave Congalton About SLO County's First City Council Atheist Invocation (Leidner starts at 1:16:00)


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:

Dave Congalton Show Interview w/David Leidner
Telegram Tribune
New Times
Santa Maria Times


FFRF v. City of Pismo Beach

November 2013

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.

FFRF v. City of Pismo Beach official complaint.

City of Pismo Beach Official Response

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:


FFRF v. City of Pismo Beach Legal Exhibits

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.

For more information on Atheists United SLO please visit our Meetup site.

Who is the Freedom From Religion Foundation and how are they involved?

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (, 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?

To view the official complaint, click here.

To view the legal exhibits, click here.

To join Atheists United SLO, visit our Meetup site by clicking here.

To learn more about the Freedom From Religion Foundation, click here.

To download a PDF of these FAQ’s, click here.

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