In Reason We Trust – June 2017
Maine Senate Denies Secular Invocation
The State of Maine allows anyone to give an invocation to the House or the Senate once they have been invited by a member of the House or Senate, respectively. I was invited by Rep. Kent Ackley to give an invocation to the Maine House. The well-received secular invocation was given to the Maine House on Feb. 7. There were a few objections but, with 151 members, that is to be expected. Several members praised the invocation and one member asked for a copy.
I was then invited by Sen. Shenna Bellows and was scheduled to give an invocation to the Maine Senate on May30, 2017. To my surprise I subsequently received a call from the Maine Senate that I would not be able to give the invocation because a few members of the Maine House objected to its content. This was followed by a letter from the Maine Senate informing me I may not be able to give the invocation at all.
This was to be my invocation:
Good morning. I am Tom Waddell, President of the Maine Chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Thank you all for the personal sacrifices each of you have made to be a member of the Maine Senate. Your personal commitment to Maine’s future is much appreciated. And thank you for the opportunity to give the first of many inspiring secular invocations to the Maine Senate.
Traditionally, invocations have served to encourage lawmakers to put aside political differences and, under the guidance of a “higher power,” work together for the common goal of making Maine a better place for all of its citizens. This secular invocation will be no different, but I will not ask you to bow your heads to a “higher power.” Instead, I ask you to look around at the learned men and women assembled here today, and rely on your collective character, honesty and integrity for guidance in making decisions that fulfill the intent of the Maine Constitution, specifically “to promote our common welfare.”
In the words of a Buddhist homily; “May (you) become at all times, both now and forever; A protector for those without protection; A guide for those who have lost their way; A ship for those with oceans to cross; A bridge for those with rivers to cross; A sanctuary for those in danger; A lamp for those without light; A place of refuge for those who lack shelter; And a servant to all those in need.”
Are these words to object to? I think not. The invocation simply asks that legislators put aside differences in these divisive times and work together for the common good of all Maine citizens. It is essentially what most religious invocations call for, without an appeal to a higher power, but apparently there is the rub.
The Supreme Court decision in Greece vs Galloway ruled that opening government meetings with religious invocation does not violate the separation of church and state providing who can give an invocation, including the non-religious, and what they can say are not subject to approval. What the Maine Senate’s decision means is anyone who wants to give an invocation will be subject to approval, in clear violation of the above Supreme Court decision.
Every person living anywhere in the U.S. has the right to give an invocation before any government body that opens their meetings with an invocation. No one, because of their religious beliefs or secular principles, can be denied that right. Censoring invocations, and who can give them, effectively gives preferential treatment to some groups while making other groups feel like outsiders. Is this what we want in Maine?
The Maine Senate is not alone in wrestling with the question: “Should we obey the law or continue with traditional, but exclusionary, practices?” Fortunately most follow the law but some, at least initially, do not. Some, after seeing how much support there was for equal access to give an invocation, changed their position. Unfortunately some needed to be shown that censoring invocations was illegal.
I sincerely encourage the Maine Senate to do the right (and legal) thing by allowing me to give the previously scheduled secular invocation before the Senate adjourns next week on Wednesday, June 21.
If you support the column I write for the Kennebec Journal, “In Reason We Trust”, published the first Friday of every month, please show your support with a positive comment to the column on-line. This can be done anonymously through a Disqus account.