Atheists to 'Pray' at Tulsa Council Meeting; 'Insulting' or Embracing Diversity?

An Atheist organization, which lost a battle to remove prayers before city council meetings in Tulsa, Okla., has now been granted permission to lead the opening "prayer" at Thursday's meeting.

The Humanist Association of Tulsa, which is a chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that the "prayer" will be more of an invocation, in which attendees will be asked to "respect the inherent dignity and worth of each person." They will not, however, have to bow their heads or close their eyes – instead they will be asked to open their eyes and "face reality," The Associated Press shared of the group's plans.

The Humanist Association lost its year-long battle to have the prayers removed from the meetings altogether, but the Tulsa council responded by broadening the prayers to various faith groups who will now all have the right to speak at the council, which also includes Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Wiccan members.

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"No one is going to change my religious views based on an invocation they deliver before a city council meeting," said Council Chairman G.T. Bynum, a Catholic, dispelling fears that the motion is a significant victory for atheists. "Tulsa is a very religious community, and that's one of its strongest attributes, but we're also a diverse community. We're not a caricature."

Randy Bradley, a member of the city's Humanist Association, stated that this was a "half-victory" for atheists.

"We'd prefer if there was no religion arbitrarily injected in the beginning of the meetings, but if we can't do away with this procedure, at least we'll get our point of view across," Bradley commented. "It's halfway there. We're letting everyone know we do protest this situation."

Dan Nerren, one of the founders of the Humanist Association of Tulsa, who will be leading the invocation, said to Tulsa World that as far as he is aware, he will be the first person to offer a secular invocation in the city.

"I'll be invoking the council, not a deity," remarked Nerren, who is also a former Baptist pastor. He expressed his wishes to "open our hearts to the welfare of all people in our community by respecting the inherent dignity and worth of each person."

"There is a vibrant secular community in Tulsa. And when there is government prayer, they are excluded – they are turned into outsiders," added Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Oklahoma resident and Republican delegate Toni Calvey said that allowing atheists to lead an invocation was an insult to Christianity.

"Personally I think it's a slap in the face to our Christian heritage … our nation and … our state of Oklahoma," Calvey said. "We are a conservative state, and I think that something like this is meant to be provocative, and it's insulting to me."

The Humanist Association of Tulsa did not respond to The Christian Post's request for additional comments by the time of press.

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