A recently published letter to the editor rebukes The Times Leader for front-page coverage of my secular invocation plans. I respond.
On June 9, 2014, a local newspaper — The Times Leader — featured a front-page article in which I was interviewed concerning church/state separation and my plans to provide a secular invocation at a Wilkes-Barre City Council meeting as an alternative to the government-led Judeo-Christian prayer.
Soon after the article was published, I gave my secular invocation which you can watch here. The article was timely and newsworthy for several reasons: my secular invocation would be given days following the article, the Supreme Court recently concluded the Greece v. Galloway case, and my secular invocation would be — as far as I know — a first of its kind invocation at a Wilkes-Barre City Council meeting.
I have objected the government-led Judeo-Christian prayer at council meetings on several occasions – not online here on this website, but also in-person during the public comment sections of council meetings. The newspaper article covered the history of my objections, interactions with council members, and also included comments from a councilman. I have also been quite active in on-the-ground activism not only concerning the prayer, but also objecting to other happenings. See the ‘council prayer’ category for more information.
Ann Anderika, writing from Wilkes-Barre, wrote a letter to the editor stating that a secular invocation is “not exactly an earth-shattering topic” claiming it is not important to newspaper subscribers. As I mentioned, the article was newsworthy and timely for several reasons, so I fail to understand Anderika’s objections.
Anderika also wrote,
Also, Mr. Vacula might need to review his studies of history; discussions regarding religion have been taking place for centuries. If people on the Wilkes-Barre City Council seem to be disregarding his passion on this subject, it might be because prayer has already been a national debate several times! After a while, it just gets old and tired.
Remember: Your right to practice your atheism ends where my right to practice theism begins!
Indeed, discussion about religion has been happening for centuries. The discussion may get ‘old and tired,’ but one new thing I am bringing to the table is a call for more inclusivity. Just because government officials happen to be Christian and prefer Christian prayers does not mean it is permissible to — as government officials — show preference for religious traditions. I call for government to remain neutral on matters of religion.
If Wilkes-Barre officials allowed me to provide a secular invocation during a meeting opening — rather than sequestering me to the public comment section (see the exchange here in response to my plea) government officials would seem to be, as it should be the case, neutral on matters of religion…but Wilkes-Barre City Council is sadly uninterested in inclusing non-Christian perspectives in its meeting openings.
My ‘right of practicing atheism,’ in giving a secular invocation, is not ‘ending’ at council meetings and this is not infringing on rights of Christians to pray. Individuals may, of course, in private (and in public) pray as they feel fit, but prayer at government meetings — offered by officials especially when non-Christian perspectives are not permitted during meeting openings even when a member of the public petitions council — is problematic.
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