Town board of Greece, New York had a change of pace on Tuesday when atheist Dan Courtney delivered the meeting's opening invocation, referencing the Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independece.
Instead of referencing a holy text or divine creator, Courtney stepped up to the podium after the Pledge of Allegiance and discussed why he believes the tenets of the country's free society are under attack and what Americans need to do about it.
In May the Supreme Court ruled to uphold the right of town boards to begin their meetings with sectarian prayer -- a decision that many atheists descried as an infringement of the separation of church and state.
In his invocation Courtney urged Americans to look to their own conscience to find the path toward overcoming what he sees as an attack on the freedom's guaranteed by the Constitution.
"We can say with confidence that it is in seeking the counsel of our conscience that we find the beginning of wisdom. It is in the exercise of our duty as citizens that we find the beginning of knowledge."
Below is a transcript of Courtney's invocation, delivered to the Greece, NY town board:
Thank you, members of the town board. Thank you, Supervisor Rielich, for allowing me to offer the invocation.
Freethinkers, atheists, non-believers, whatever label you wish, this group comprises a significant part of our population. I am honored to be providing an invocation on their behalf, and on behalf of all the citizens of the town of Greece.
On July 4th, 1776, the 56 men, who pledged their lives to the document that changed the course of history, agreed to the central tenet that, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
More than 238 years later this central premise still echoes, however faintly, from the town hall to the white columned halls of Washington.
Yet this premise, this foundation necessary for a free and flourishing society, is today, more than ever, under assault.
This central pillar of a free society; this notion that is deeply heretical to authoritarian culture, proclaims that it is from the people that moral authority is derived.
It is that within us, the citizens, that knowledge and wisdom must emerge.
The preservation of this premise does not come from accepting the status quo, but by asserting our rights and exercising our duties.
That this premise still endures testifies to its truth, and we can say with confidence that it is in seeking the counsel of our conscience that we find the beginning of wisdom.
It is in the exercise of our duty as citizens that we find the beginning of knowledge.
We, as citizens, the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega of our destiny are not, as the great philosopher Immanuel Kant warned, mere means to the ends of another, but we are ends in ourselves.
This basic premise, this profound idea, guides us such that we need not kneel to any king, and we need not bow to any tyrant.
So I ask all officials present here, as guarantors of our founder’s revolutionary proclamation, to heed the counsel of the governed; to seek the wisdom of all citizens, and to honor the enlightened wisdom and the profound courage of those 56 brave men. Thank you.