Vote Justin Vacula for best secular invocation

Activist Justin Vacula speaking up again through ‘secular invocation’ at Wilkes-Barre City Council meeting June 08. 2014 The Times Leader
Activist Justin Vacula speaking up again through ‘secular invocation’ at Wilkes-Barre City Council meeting
June 08. 2014
The Times Leader

Vote for my secular invocation as the best of 2014 in the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s new annual contest!

I have worked hard an activist for the separation of church and state for about five years — challenging local and state violations of church/state separation — by filing complaints, challenging government officials, participating in lawsuits, and taking a very public stand in my community far beyond keyboard strokes.

Most recently, I delivered a secular invocation at a Wilkes-Barre City Council meeting and have been included in a contest for best secular invocation of 2014 held by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Why should I be selected as a winner? For those of you who are unfamiliar with my history of activism…

In December of 2009, as one of my first activist efforts, I challenged the constitutionality of an exclusively erected courthouse nativity scene — arguing for inclusivity and government neutrality on matters of religion — and, working with the ACLU, successfully changed courthouse policy; inclusive displays are now erected.

Since then — working alongside organizations and sometimes alone — I have challenged school-sponsored prayer resulting in policy change, protested a school voucher bill at a state capitol rally, removed government-sponsored religious messages from bus route information, challenged security officers’ coaxing of citizens to ‘stand to show respect’ for prayer at House of Representatives sessions, protested a rally advocating for special religious exemptions from healthcare mandates, was listed in a lawsuit following legislation declaring ‘The Year of The Bible’ in Pennsylvania, protested National Day of Prayer rallies in-person with signage and displayed banners, and most recently — among other efforts — objected to government-sponsored Christian prayers at Wilkes-Barre City Council meetings by repeatedly appearing at meetings and offering speeches.

Justin Vacula addresses Wilkes-Barre City Council
Justin Vacula addresses Wilkes-Barre City Council

I initially challenged government-sponsored prayer in June of 2013 and soon after appeared on local television during two newscasts, in online news media, on local talkradio, in a local newspaper, on the now defunct Syndicated News Services, gained support from the Freedom From Religion Foundation who sent a letter to city officials, and authored a letter to the editor which appeared in a local newspaper. I returned to speak before council in July of 2013.

In 2014, I petitioned council to, in place of government-sponsored Christian prayer, offer a secular invocation while also encouraging members of the community — in light of Greece v. Galloway, to be included rather than government officials having exclusive control over opening remarks (prayers) at meetings.

My request to deliver a secular invocation in place of Christian prayer was declined. No one from the community, to my knowledge, was invited to deliver an invocation in place of government prayer. I was, though, invited to deliver a secular invocation during the public comment section of council meetings and later obliged by announcing intentions to deliver a secular invocation via press release. News of the secular invocation, featuring an interview I had participated in, was then featured on the upper-front page of a local newspaper.

Through my efforts, with help of others, a tremendous amount of attention was drawn to the issue of government-led prayer at council meetings. I delivered my secular invocation in June of 2013 — a model for what opening remarks, appealing to all, at council meetings should look like — and was recently selected by the Freedom From Religion Foundation to be included in a contest for the best secular invocation of 2014. I’m asking for your support and vote.

Voting is very easy, requires no signups outside of Facebook, e-mail, and YouTube accounts you likely already have, is cost-free, and painless.

You may vote by (1) ‘liking’ a YouTube video of my secular invocation which is embedded below:

http://youtu.be/g9aAh-HQoOM

(2) Commenting in this Facebook thread simply saying something like ‘I vote for contest entrant #1 Justin Vacula.’

and (3) sending an e-mail to NothingFailsLikePrayer@FFRF.org with a subject line of ‘I vote for contest entrant #1 Justin Vacula.’

Voting is not limited to one method; you may vote using all three methods.

Your support is very much appreciated. Should I win, I will receive an all-expenses paid trip to the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s 2015 annual conference in California, an honorarium of $500, a plaque, and the honor of opening the conference with my secular invocation delivered before Wilkes-Barre City Council.

Voting ends September 18, 2014.

Thanks for your time and, as always, feel free to comment below.

Thanks, once again, to the Freedom From Religion Foundation. It’s an honor to be included in this contest.

Justin Vacula

Justin Vacula produces content about Stoic Philosophy; serves as co-organizer and spokesperson for the Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) Freethought Society; and hosts monthly Stoic Philosophy discussion groups for the Humanist Association of Greater Philadelphia. He has appeared on and hosted various radio shows and podcasts; participated in formal debates and discussions; was a guest speaker for college-level courses; was featured in local, national, and international news; and has been invited to speak at various national, local, and statewide events. Vacula received bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Psychology, a minor in Professional Writing, and the distinguished W.A. Kilburn Memorial Award for Philosophy from King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He is pursuing a degree in Marywood University’s graduate-level Mental Health Counseling program and formerly worked for the Arc of Luzerne County’s Transition to Community Employment program as a teacher’s assistant and job coach alongside adult learners with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He also plays poker; volunteers as a member of the website and media team for the Greyhawk Reborn Dungeons & Dragons campaign and plays at events in the Eastern United States; and enjoys metal music.