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Humanists Ask Mayor to Reconsider Starting Meetings With Prayer

Washington, DC, July 14, 2010

The American Humanist Association sent a letter to Mayor Thompson of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania today, requesting she refrain from beginning mayoral staff meetings with a Christian prayer.

Dear Mayor Thompson,

The American Humanist Association wishes to communicate its deep concern to you over your reported practice of starting mayoral staff meetings with a Christian group prayer. Such a practice would raise eyebrows in virtually any professional managerial context, but in a scope such as yours - as mayor of a major city - it is most troubling.

While other organizations speaking out on this issue have raised Establishment Clause and church-state separation arguments (which indeed are valid), the AHA would like to call your attention to another aspect of this matter that apparently has gone unnoticed by you. In conducting a group prayer in the course of your employment in a workplace setting, no matter how voluntary you may feel the prayer is, you are inevitably creating an environment that marginalizes secular humanists and anyone else whose religious views would prohibit them from participating in the prayer.

Obviously, as mayor of the city and chief executive officer of city government, you are the person all other employees must respect and, ultimately, please. By suggesting that you feel it is important to start meetings with a group prayer, you are sending a message of exclusion to any employees who do not participate in that endeavor with you. Such employees no doubt would be concerned about being seen as outsiders, thereby causing them to worry about their status with you.

You may feel that you would hold no grudge against nonparticipating employees, but even if this were true you obviously must understand how your employees would feel pressured to participate, hesitant to refrain from your religious exercise, and even more hesitant to object publicly to the practice (a fact proven by the anonymous status of the employee who complained about your practice). This is clearly a matter of unjust discrimination, whereby you are injecting not just your religious beliefs but your religious practices into the workplace, creating an environment that is hostile (whether you intend it or not) to those with different religious beliefs.

The AHA recognizes your religious freedom, but we respectfully suggest that your freedom does not extend to the point where you create a work environment that is discriminatory toward those with different views. On behalf of all city employees who are humanist, nonreligious, or who otherwise object to group prayers as part of standard office procedure in the course of employment, we strongly urge that you refrain from this practice in the future.

Very truly yours,

David Niose
President, American Humanist Association


The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across America.

Humanism is the idea that you can be good without a belief in God.