Secular Salutation: Georgia County Survives Non-Religious Invocation

If government officials are dead set on having invocations, the least they can do is strive to include the entire range of religious and philosophical thought.

I've been online today scanning news sites to see if Cobb County, Ga., has been struck by an earthquake, a hurricane or perhaps a plague of frogs. Apparently, this has not happened.

I'm surprised. Last night, a guy named Ed Buckner gave a secular invocation at a meeting of the Cobb County Commission. To hear some followers of the Religious Right tell it, if you dare to give any invocation that fails to mention Jesus Christ, look out! Your community will feel divine wrath.

I doubt Ed's invocation mentioned Jesus. He is, after all, the president of American Atheists.

Ed was one of the plaintiffs in a 2006 lawsuit challenging Cobb County's practice of opening its meeting with mostly Christian prayers. As a result of that court action, county officials decided to expand their horizons a bit by occasionally inviting non-Christians to give the invocation. Ed's secular invocation was probably a first.

Just to be clear, Ed doesn't think there should be any official invocations before commission meetings. Neither do I. Government leaders can pray on their own in private whenever they like, but they should not presume to host prayers on behalf of the entire community. Inevitably, some people will feel left out.

But if government officials are dead set on having invocations, the least they can do is strive to include the entire range of religious and philosophical thought in America. This includes not only all of the Christian denominations but also Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, etc. and yes, non-theistic groups.

I should also point out, in the spirit of full disclosure, that Ed Buckner is a friend of mine. He has been a longtime AU activist in the Atlanta area. Last year, I spoke to the Atlanta Freethought Society, a group Ed has been involved in for years. It was a great event, and while there I enjoyed the hospitality of Ed and his wife Diane.

In some communities that have permitted secular invocations, legislators have walked out, refused to listen to them or made speeches attacking the invocations after they were delivered. (And let's not forget what happened last summer after a Hindu chaplain was invited to give an invocation before the U.S. Senate.)

I talked to Ed this morning, and he reported that nothing like that took place in Cobb County last night. A crowd of more than 200 attended the meeting, but everyone behaved like grown-ups, and today the community still stands.

That wasn't so hard, now was it?