Invocation Inspiration: Tulsa Allows Humanist To Open Council Meeting

The Tulsa City Council will hear a secular invocation.

If all goes well, members of the Tulsa City Council will hear something tomorrow night they probably haven’t heard before: a secular invocation.

Dan Nerren, one of the founders of the Humanist Association of Tulsa, will deliver a secular invocation prior to the council’s 6 p.m. meeting.

Nerren told the Tulsa World that he will implore the members of the council to “open our hearts to the welfare of all people in our community by respecting the inherent dignity and worth of each person.”

He added, “I'll be invoking the council, not a deity.”

Nerren will conclude by saying, “We must remember that in the face of adversity, we need not look above for answers but instead recognize the proven potential within ourselves and in each other to overcome any challenges we face.”

Like a lot of cities around the country, Tulsa invites religious leaders to open its sessions with an invocation. Christians have delivered plenty of prayers, but so have Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Native American practitioners. At least one Wiccan has also appeared.

Americans United would rather there be no official prayers at all before government meetings. Our view is that it’s wrong for the government to pray in the name of the people. If members of a city council feel the need for spiritual guidance, they can consult with a religious leader or engage in private prayer.

Courts, however, have not embraced this view. Most of them have tended to permit “non-sectarian” prayer before government meetings. Some communities have responded to this by asking representatives from local religious communities to offer invocations on a rotating basis.

It’s good to see secular communities being included as well. Growing numbers of Americans say they are non-religious, and this community should not be overlooked.

Bill Dusenberry, vice president of the Northeast Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United, put it well, telling the World that the decision to use a secular invocation was “a very good move on the part of the council. It shows a willingness to accommodate diversity.”

The next step will be for everyone to realize that this is no big deal. In some communities, local lawmakers have reacted badly to non-Christian invocations. In Charleston, S.C., two members of the council walked out rather than sit through a non-religious invocation.

In Tulsa, City Council Chairman G.T. Bynum signaled that he has the proper attitude.

“As a Catholic, I’m not terrified of an atheist giving an invocation,” Bynum said. “There are things of value you can learn from any religious perspective.”

Yes, Tulsa will survive Nerren’s secular invocation. Who knows? They might even hear some things they like.