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Atheists Demand Equal Time at New D.C. Mayor's Prayer Service

3 years ago
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Here's a brain-teaser for the day: The capital's leading lobby of atheists and humanists is complaining because they have been excluded from an ecumenical prayer service on Sunday morning that will launch inaugural festivities ahead of Mayor-elect Vincent Gray's swearing-in.

"We would prefer that a government function such as an inauguration not be entwined with religion," said Amanda Knief, government relations manager for the Secular Coalition for America (SCA). "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."

Knief is also a certified "humanist celebrant"; after learning of the planned prayer service the SCA immediately requested that she be included.

Vincent GrayHumanist celebrants are considered the "the nonreligious equivalent of a clergyperson," according to the SCA. They are certified by a variety of secularist groups and can conduct marriages, civil unions, memorial services, funerals, and other life-cycle ceremonies.

Knief said that a humanist celebrant would be able to "offer words of encouragement and inspiration without religion" if included in the prayer service.

She said that after two days of inquiries, Gray's team responded by saying the lineup was set and no humanist celebrant could be included, though they added that they would have accommodated a secular representative if they'd had prior notice.

"How could we have done that without notification from the mayor-elect's team?" Knief said "We hope that Mayor-elect Gray will recognize the nontheistic community as part of the fabric of D.C. and include us in events such as this."

Gray is a Democrat, and the party has traditionally been seen as the natural home for secularists and the unaffiliated. But even President Obama, who has made a point of mentioning nonbelievers in many of his speeches and proclamations at solemn observances, has alienated some secularists with his faith-based rhetoric and policies.

The Secular Coalition for America has launched an e-mail campaign to protest their exclusion, and atheist activists and groups have already been posting angry comments vowing political revenge against Gray. The event, called "One City . . . Praying Together," is Gray's first official inaugural event and is scheduled to take place at 8 a.m. Jan. 2 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

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