May has been a depressing month for freedom of religion and separation of church and state in America. With the Greece v. Galloway Supreme Court decision handed down this month, local and state governments are expanding their efforts to use officially established religious rituals as political tools for maintaining control and bullying dissent into silence. More town meetings and city councils are opening with prayers that speak only to Christians, casting the increasing numbers of non-Christians in America as second class citizens in their own communities.
If you’re a non-Christian, and the Christian majority in your community has grabbed control of local government to promote its own religious agenda, your legal options have become much more limited than what they used to be. Even the Supreme Court won’t stand up for the clear principles of the First Amendment.
So what can you do?
One tactic is to shame the theocratic bullies in your neighborhood: Simply by asking in a dignified way that they stop violating the rights of their constituents to live free of government establishment of religion. Religious zealots count on the ability of governmental officials to intimidate dissenters into silence. The point of conspicuous public prayers is to make it seem as if communities are 100 percent Christian. Who else, after all, is speaking about their beliefs so loudly? Don’t let them maintain that illusion. Don’t be silent. Be polite, but don’t stop asking for your rights to be respected.
There are other non-Christians living around you, even if you don’t know who they are. It’s just that they’re afraid of being targeted by the Christian majority. When you speak up, allies will come to you.
You can also reach out to the allies that already exist for you. In response to the Greece v. Galloway ruling, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has begun an activist campaign it calls Operation Inclusion.
Operation Inclusion involves many different tactics, among them the simple gathering of information about the ways that Christian political groups are using the Greece v. Galloway ruling as an excuse to use government power against religious minorities. The campaign is also offering materials for Americans who still support the First Amendment to speak out in a respectful but firm manner.
One of the tools offered by Operation Inclusion is a Sample Invocation. When I saw the phrase sample invocation, I was worried that Americans United for Separation of Church and State might have finally caved in to the ridiculous assertion that it’s possible for local governments to establish a “civic religion” that does not create a government establishment of religion. However, the Sample Invocation provides a non-religious form of introduction to a governmental meeting that nonetheless provides the serious statement of purpose that theocrats insist can only be established through Christian prayer.
The Sample Invocation reads:
“We come here to do the business of local government – the deliberative body that is closest to the people. As we gather, we are reminded that in our differences there is great strength. We do not all think the same way or believe the same things. Yet we are linked by our common humanity and our shared origin. When we work together to move our community forward in a spirit of mutual respect and common decency, we showcase what is best about our community, our state, and our nation.
We embrace many traditions. We are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, humanists,
atheists, agnostics, Wiccans, Pagans, unaffiliated, uncertain, and so many other things. We are straight, gay, and transgender. We are young and old and everything in between. We represent dozens of races and nationalities. We run the gamut from liberal to conservative, and some of us are a bit of both.
To be sure, we do not agree about everything. And we often feel fiercely protective of what
we do believe. There is great passion in our beliefs — and rightly so. But there is one thing on which we all agree: We share the goal of making our community the best place it can be. We unite here today around that noble aim and common purpose.”