TULSA, Okla. - For years, atheists and humanists have struggled to halt the practice of praying before Tulsa City Council meetings, and while they have not succeeded, Thursday night for the first time an atheist offered an invocation in lieu of the traditional opening prayer.
After leading the assembly in the pledge of allegiance, Dan Nerren offered the invocation (read it in full below or CLICK HERE to hear the audio from the meeting.)
Several groups, including the ACLU, have asked the council to stop the prayers at the beginning of council meetings, and for a brief period in 2007 the practice was actually halted.
However, the next year a council vote reinstated the opening prayer.
As a compromise, the council has invited members of several faiths to offer that prayer, so that it's not an exclusively Christian privilege.
Various Christian denominations, as well as Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, and even a Wiccan have taken part.
But Thurday night's invocation by an atheist was unprecedented.
KRMG has obtained a copy of the remarks which Dan Nerren made in lieu of a prayer at the opening of Thursday's council meeting:
Let us open our hearts to the welfare of all people in our community by respecting the inherent dignity and worth of each person, and realize that our differences of race, religion and party affiliation are merely superficial. Our common humanity unites us all, and may we recognize that through our interdependence we share a common fate.
In order to achieve the greatest good as citizens of Tulsa, it is important for us to manintain an open mind, and honor and respect the human rights of each other. We should consider the benefit provide by differing perspectives, and be willing to question assumptions that serve only to obstruct our path to progress.
Rather than bowing our heads and closing our eyes in deference, we should open our eyes widely to face the reality that confronts us, without losing sight of our ideals of what we could achieve.
Through the prudent use of reason and compassion, we can ensure the success of this great city.
Lastly, 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.
Nerren tells KRMG the remarks speak "about harmony, love, getting along and that kind of thing."
He added that being allowed to deliver the invocation makes the secular humanist community feel more like they belong.
"It makes us feel like we're included in the community now. Whereas before, we were excluded because of our lack of belief in a God."
He says he would prefer that the council, as a governmental organization, forego prayer entirely.
There is not currently a motion before the council to take that step.