Council somewhat approves my secular invocation request

Justin Vacula addresses Wilkes-Barre City Council during May 29, 2014 meeting
Justin Vacula addresses Wilkes-Barre City Council during May 29, 2014 meeting

Wilkes-Barre City Council approved my request to provide a secular invocation at a future meeting, but is only allowing me to do so during the public comment section.

I addressed Wilkes-Barre City Council during its May 29, 2014 meeting asking permission to provide a secular invocation in place of the traditional government-led Judeo-Christian prayer led by Councilwoman Maureen Lavelle.

I also aired grievances related to improper treatment regarding the hanging of the 2014 Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) ‘Nothing Fails Like Prayer’ banner on Public Square, objected to recent government entanglement with religion, and encouraged Wilkes-Barre officials to remain neutral on matters of religion in their governmental capacities.

Watch a video of my speech, including a rough partial transcript, and listen to my exchange with council below.

Councilman Tony George responded to my speech saying,

“I don’t think we say the prayer. We ask the Lord for making the right decisions. We’re not forcing that on anybody. […] We’re not asking you to have faith in him. We’re asking him to give us the right decision to make our decisions. We’re not making you petition the Lord. I have a right to petition the Lord if I want to and when we say a prayer we’re asking for the right decisions to make policy. If you have five minutes, if you want to use your secular prayer for your five minutes, you can do what you want with that five minutes.”

George’s response was awkward. He first claimed that council doesn’t say a prayer, but rather is ‘asking the Lord to make the right decisions’ and then said that council offers prayer…even though my speech was, unlike my June 2013 speech before council, not asking council to remove their Christian prayers. Petitioning the Lord, anyway, might as well be the definition of prayer – at least within a Judeo-Christian framework.

I then, in response to George’s comments about using the public comment section of the meeting to deliver a secular invocation, again asked to use the opening portion of the meeting to deliver a secular invocation.

George replied, “When it’s your turn to speak you can say your prayer,” again refusing me to open council meetings — following the Pledge of Allegiance — with a secular invocation.

Why is it that a city council refuses citizens who which to offer an alternative message in place of government-led prayer? Wilkes-Barre City Council unfortunately, failing to represent a diversity of viewpoints within the city, refuses to let anyone apart from council members to provide an opening invocation.

Although I am not able to open a Wilkes-Barre council meeting with a secular invocation, I will use my five minutes of public comment time at a future Wilkes-Barre council meeting to deliver a secular invocation. Stay tuned during the first week of June 2014 for a press release to be issued on behalf of the NEPA Freethought Society which will be released on this website.

Bill Wellock, writer for the Wilkes-Barre based newspaper The Citizens’ Voice, also has reported on this issue and other happenings at the May 29 council meeting. Feel free to post in the comment section which partially includes people informing me that I am going to Hell.

As always, feel free to comment below.

Road to Reason video now available

The video of my appearance on episode #73 of the Virginia-based public access television show Road to Reason is now available.

Watch a video of my appearance representing the NEPA Freethought Society, included below, on the television show Road to Reason. I spoke about separation of church and state issues in Northeastern Pennylvania; the importance of community activism; and provided advice for activists. Enjoy!

NEPA Freethought Society to protest Circle the Square With Prayer event

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE April 21, 2014

Media Contact: Justin Vacula, justinvacula [at] gmail.com

NEPA Freethought Society to protest Circle the Square With Prayer event

Wilkes-Barre – The NEPA Freethought Society — a social, educational, activist, and philosophical coalition of atheists, agnostics, humanists, secularists, and skeptics predicated on support and community which upholds the separation of church and state and promotes critical thinking — will protest the May 1, 2014 Circle the Square With Prayer event to be held on Public Square in Wilkes-Barre commemorating the National Day of Prayer.

Justin Vacula — NEPA Freethought Society Spokesperson and Co-organizer — will be attending and organizing the protest with intentions to civilly and peacefully engage event attendees and passerby to educate on matters of secularism, atheism, and separation of church and state. A banner reading ‘Nothing Fails Like Prayer’ paid for by the Freedom From Religion Foundation will also hang on Public Square from April 28 to May 5, joining Vacula and NEPA Freethought Society members in protest.

Vacula voiced his objections to the Circle the Square With Prayer event, “Prayer will not fix the problems facing our nation. Government officials should not be leading citizens in prayer or encouraging citizens to pray as the United States Government does each May and Wilkes-Barre City Council members do at government functions. Government should remove itself from religious activities.”

At a May 30, 2013 City Council meeting, Mayor of Wilkes-Barre Thomas Leighton lamented the ‘Nothing Fails Like Prayer’ banner — previously displayed on Public Square — saying, “We live in a free country; unfortunately everybody has the rights to whatever they want to say” after noting he and council members are “people of faith.” Vacula is eager to again exercise his freedom of speech in response to Mayor Leighton.

Religious individuals throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania — especially including those attending the event — are welcome to engage Vacula and members of the NEPA Freethought Society as Bible verse 1 Peter 3:15 suggests, “If anyone asks the reason for your faith, prepare a defense but do so with gentleness and respect.”

More information about the NEPA Freethought Society can be found on the NEPA Freethought Society’s new website at www.meetup.com/nepafreethoughtsociety

Vacula’s website can be found at www.justinvacula.com.

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Audio:

10/11 Citizens’ Voice interview

FFRF "Nothing Fails Like Prayer" banner on Public Square in Wilkes-Barre
FFRF “Nothing Fails Like Prayer” banner on Public Square in Wilkes-Barre

I recently spoke with a reporter for The Citizens’ Voice concerning my upcoming protest of the “Public Square Rosary Crusade” in which I and other local secularists will advocate for separation of church and state and rebut religious claims such as the efficacy of prayer.

Feel free to comment on the article or share your thoughts here.

Following is the interview – reproduced here for purposes of archiving:

Group to stage protest for religion, government separation

A protest group wants a clearer separation between religion and Wilkes-Barre city government.

On Saturday, members of the group are hitting the streets with a banner reading, “Nothing Fails Like Prayer” to get their message across.

“We think our leaders should fix this world we’re living in instead of yearning for another one,” the co-organizer of the protest, Justin Vacula, said.

Vacula and members of the NEPA Freethought Society, a local group of atheists, agnostics and secularists, will stage a peaceful protest at noon Saturday on North Street, near the Our Lady of Fatima grotto.

Vacula said the protest is intended to spark conversation and fight the overlap between religion and government. The organization is not looking to stir up tension, he said.

In a press release announcing the event, Vacula focused on members of the Wilkes-Barre city council who begin meetings with prayer, which he says is “inappropriate and potentially illegal.”

“We don’t think prayer will answer real-world (problems),” Vacula said. Government-led prayer, he said, has not resolved poverty, unemployment and other issues in Wilkes-Barre.

About 10 protesters are expected to join Vacula. He encourages the public to join in.

“Every person has inherent dignity and should be treated with respect, whether or not they share our beliefs,” Diocese of Scranton spokesperson Bill Genello said in an email Thursday. “We also believe that the Church has the right and the duty to offer its voice to the discussion of public policy issues to ensure that the welfare of all is protected.”

Genello also said that any discourse Saturday should be “conducted in a respectful manner.”

This will not be the first time the NEPA Freethought Society has brought out the “Nothing Fails Like Prayer” banner, as earlier this year, it was displayed on Public Square in Wilkes-Barre.

“I think this will be the perfect place for that banner,” Vacula said.

mbufano@citizensvoice.com

570-821-2056, @CVBufano

Local secularists to protest Public Square Rosary Crusade

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE October 5, 2013
Media Contact: Justin Vacula, justinvacula [at] gmail.com

Local secularists to protest Public Square Rosary Crusade

Wilkes-Barre – The NEPA Freethought Society — a community group of atheists, agnostics, and secularists throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania — will be staging a protest of the October 12, 2013 Public Square Rosary Crusade at the Our Lady of Fatima Grotto on North Street in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania brandishing a banner reading “Nothing Fails Like Prayer” which was previously displayed on Wilkes-Barre’s Public Square in May of 2013.

Justin Vacula — co-organizer and spokesperson of the NEPA Freethought Society — will be attending and organizing this protest with intentions to civilly and peacefully engage attending Catholics and passerby in order to educate on matters of secularism, atheism, and separation of church and state.

“Contrary to what Catholics attending this event may believe,” Vacula said, “praying to God for help will not benefit politicians nor fix the problems facing our nation. Members of Wilkes-Barre’s city council who begin their meetings with inappropriate and potentially illegal government-led prayer unsuccessfully continue to resort to divine intervention while crime, poverty, unemployment, and other problems continue to plague the residents of Wilkes-Barre and Luzerne County. Prayer won’t help us. Real-world action will. We need less, not more, religious involvement in government.”

Local secularists are welcome to join Vacula and members of the NEPA Freethought Society on the sidewalk outside the Our Lady of Fatima Grotto on October 12, 2013 at 11:30AM. Interested parties may RSVP on the NEPA Freethought Society’s website. Religious individuals throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania — especially including those attending the event — are welcome to engage in conversation as 1 Peter 3:15 suggests, “If anyone asks the reason for your faith, prepare a defense but do so with gentleness and respect.”

More information about the NEPA Freethought Society may be found at www.nepafreethought.org.
Vacula’s website may be found at www.justinvacula.com.

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