Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What are the pragmatics or the first practical considerations of secular activism?
Herb Silverman: What to do, when to do it, and how to frame it? Those are the questions. Since open secularists are still a minority, we must pick and choose our battles. We do not ask for special rights, as many religions do. But we deserve and should demand equal rights in a country with a secular (and godless) Constitution, which does not favor one religion over another or religion over non-religion. We can focus on win-win situations, where we either gain equality or get sympathy for being discriminated against.
As a personal example, the Charleston City Council in South Carolina started its meetings with an invocation, usually a Christian one. Our local Secular Humanist group persuaded one council member to offer more diversity, and he invited me to give an invocation. But as the mayor introduced me, half the council members walked out because they knew I was an atheist. They didn’t return until it was time for the Pledge of Allegiance, and they turned toward me as they bellowed the words “under God.” Those who heard my invocation, including the mayor, thought it was fine.
I didn’t expect such defiance, but it was an opportunity for the “Law of Unintended Consequences.” A reporter from our local newspaper wrote about the incident, along with comments from those who walked out. One councilman quoted Psalm 14: “The fool says in his heart there is no God. They are corrupt, their deeds are vile, there is not one who does good.” He then told me that the walkout was not personal. In other words, his religious beliefs compelled him to demonize an entire class of people he was elected to represent. Frankly, I would rather it had been personal. Another councilman said, “He can worship a chicken if he wants to, but I’m not going to be around when he does it.” I responded, “Perhaps the councilman doesn’t realize that many of us who stand politely for religious invocations believe that praying to a god makes no more sense than praying to a chicken.” (At least you can see a chicken.)