Friday, April 19, 2013

Memorial service in Boston excludes secular humanists

By Mathew Goldstein

The memorial service for the victims of the Boston marathon bombings began on April 18 at 11:00 AM ET in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. Boston Mayor Tom Menino, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and clergy representing different religious denominations across the city took to the podium. President Barack Obama offered the final reflection of the service and Cardinal Sean O'Malley concluded with a closing blessing. The memorial was broadcast nationally on television, the radio, and the Internet. The published "interfaith" program features the seal of the state of Massachusetts. The state sponsored service was mostly conducted by and for theists, with most speakers making obligatory references to their God. A notable exception was Governor Deval Patrick, whose speech was inclusive. It could have been more inclusive.

Celeste Corcoran of Lowell, Massachusetts, who lost both her legs at the knees in one of the bomb blasts and her 18 year-old daughter, Sydney, who suffered severe injuries as a result of being hit by shrapnel, were part of the humanist community in the greater Boston area. According to Greg Epstein, the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University, both the White House and the staff of the Governor's office who were organizing the event were contacted in advance repeatedly with requests to include the non-theist community in the memorial service. "All they had to do was say one word, or allow one official guest, and they didn't", said Epstein, "...we [the Secular Coalition for America] contacted them [the governor's staff] every hour on the hour".


Gary Berg-Cross said...

Jenny Kalmanson
Editor, WASHline & Vice President, American Humanist Association noted an invitation to participate in a coordinated letter writing campaign in response to the active exclusion of atheists at the "interfaith" memorial ceremony recently held in Boston for the victims of the marathon bombings. Note that one of our own----was also injured in the bombings and lost both of her legs. Our community of non-theists was explicitly excluded from recognizing her pain on the public platform of the official memorial ceremony, simply on the grounds that we don't believe in a god. So, if this outrages you as much as it does me, please share this with all of your members, and please write in as directed below.

As part of a joint effort amongst national groups, and in partnership with Boston Atheists and the Humanist Community at Harvard, we want to educate public officials about the diversity of their communities in times of tragedy and atheists' desire and need to be included.

Atheists are hurting from this news as much as anyone else, and part of the grieving process for atheists affected includes things such as representation at the official memorial service and in the community response. When memorial services include exclusively religious language, atheists who are affected are excluded and shut out from the community.


We are asking you to assist us by writing a short paragraph that includes the following three things:

1) Who you are and whom you represent or speak on behalf of (e.g. Matt Dillahunty is President of Atheist Community of Austin)

2) Why you're hurt by the exclusion from the memorial

3) What it is you would like to see happen as a solution

Greg Epstein from the Humanist Community at Harvard is meeting with public officials to discuss this issue and would like to pass on responses from our community's leaders. We also encourage you to solicit responses from members of your communities (if you run a blog, your readers; if you have a TV show, your viewers, etc) that he can include as well.

Please send your responses to me by early next week so we can make sure he gets them in time.
IMPORTANT: Please send your responses to and encourage your fans/listeners to do the same.


Gary Berg-Cross said...

Another follow up.
The following link has a petition which will go to Gov. Deval Patrick of MA and Melissa Rogers, Director of the WH Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, will be distributed nationally by the 80,000-member progressive network the Groundswell Movement.