FFRF protests Ohio Senate’s discrimination of nontheists

FFRF is taking the Ohio Senate to task for its discriminatory invocation practices.

Ohio Senate Clerk Vincent Keeran has made it clear that nontheists will not be allowed to give invocations to the Senate, and that only prayer to a deity will suffice.

“The Supreme Court has not redefined prayer to include secular, nonreligious speech,” Keeran said in response to a letter from FFRF. He goes on to state that an invocation before the Ohio Senate must “be given by an ordained representative of that faith, it must appeal to a higher power, and the individual must be sponsored by a member of the Legislature.”

This policy is blatantly unconstitutional, FFRF contends.

Northern Ohio Freethought Society Vice President Sam Salerno contacted FFRF in September 2017 regarding the discriminatory treatment he was subjected to in his attempt to give a secular invocation to the Senate. After Salerno’s numerous attempts, the office of state Sen. Mike Skindell had finally replied to him by email, attaching a memo that listed the guidelines for Senate invocations and asking to see a copy of Salerno’s remarks. These guidelines said nothing about a “higher power” or ordination. Salerno provided his invocation as requested, but heard nothing for nearly a year.

FFRF sent a letter in December 2017 to Senate President Larry Obhof on behalf of Salerno and the Northern Ohio Freethought Society. Salerno met all the requirements that he was told were necessary to deliver the invocation under the guidelines, FFRF asserted.

The Senate’s suffocating oversight and systematic delay of Salerno’s request to give a secular invocation amounts to an “intrusion of government in the constitutional sense” that may “result in establishment of religion,” FFRF declared, quoting the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Ohio Senate must allow nonbelievers to give invocations, FFRF contended.