Atheists Protest to Participate in D.C. Inaugural Prayer Service

D.C. secularists plan to protest city Mayor-Elect Vincent Gray's January inaugural prayer service after his transition team resisted attempts to place a humanist celebrant on the interfaith program.

The Secular Coalition for America's Washington D.C. is publicly shaming the mayoral administration for excluding the atheists, humanists, agnostics and other nontheists from its inaugural ecumenical prayer service entitled "One City Praying Together."

Humanist and SCA Government Relations Manager Amanda Knief said the group contacted Gray's team about the guest list and was told it was too late.

"We would prefer that a government function such as an inauguration not be entwined with religion," Knief stated in the Tuesday press release.

She continued, "However, we find it overtly discriminatory when we request to be part of an ecumenical prayer service that is supposed to unite the entire city and are told there is no place for nontheists."

Gray, who beat out fellow Democrat Mayor Adrian Fenty for the seat, ran his campaign on the themes of inclusion and unity.

He also promised to restore the city's Office of Religious Affairs and create a city prayer breakfast during a December 12th community faith forum at the Washington National Cathedral. Gray is also a Roman Catholic.

In a phone interview, Knief told The Christian Post that SCA their goal in attending the prayer was to "participate, not protest." Its plan, she shared, was to have a humanist celebrant attend and "offer words of encouragement and inspiration without involving a deity."

Similar to atheism, humanism disavows the existence of a divine creator. Humanists expressly believe in taking care of people and problems in the here and now through science, reason and caring for people. A humanist celebrant performs clergy-like functions such as weddings and funerals without invoking religion of any kind, clarified Knief, also a humanist celebrant.

Efforts to include a humanist celebrant in Gray's prayer service after December 20th announcement went for two days. A representative then responded that the program for the prayer service was set and that they could not be included.

Public prayer has long been protested by humanist groups. The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation successfully launched a lawsuit against the National Day of Prayer earlier this year. Federal District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled on April 15 that the day of prayer was unlawful; President Barack Obama has promised to appeal the decision.

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