City of Simi Valley prays for troops; disregards atheist service members

Update 9/7: The local VC Star has printed a letter to the editor based on the text below under the heading “disrespectful poster.”

Simi Valley prays for troops (Stephen Osman)

Stuart Bechman, atheist activist and prior President of Atheist Alliance International, has identified an action by the city government of Simi Valley, California to promote religion in the guise of supporting members of the military.

The poster features a God Bless America / God Bless You prayer sandwich as well as a reference to Psalms 33 indicating Christian requirements for such a blessing.  This display is primarily religious in nature, co-opting patriotism to promote their personal Christian beliefs.  This is disrespectful to nontheistic military personnel and the city should take the very simple action of leaving their religion at home and posting a new poster.  “Support The Troops” deletion of the Psalms reference, and deletion of “God Bless You” would serve the purpose of supporting service members without violating Constitutional prohibitions against government establishment of religion.

Members of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers serve honorably around the world in all branches of service.  Why does the Simi Valley council ignore our service?

Stuart Bechman provides his report below at SecularSimi as well as link to editorials and references.  Also contact the local VCStar – letters@vcstar.com

In my home town of Simi Valley, California, the city council launched a “Support the Troops” campaign about a year ago, putting up banners around the city of all of the active-duty soldiers that came from our city.  As a final piece of this campaign, the city mounted a support poster in the foyer of the city hall chambers.
I had no problem with the “support the troops” campaign. Its purpose seemed to be to engender community pride and identity as a city that supported those who defended our American rights and values. And I have a brother, an atheist himself, who just retired from the military after a 25-year career, I was pleased to be part of a campaign that honored him.
Unfortunately, this poster included huge “God Bless America” and “God Bless You” messages that overshadowed the support message. So I contacted my city council and expressed my objection to the current poster and asked for a more appropriate replacement.  The crux of my objection being that this poster, purportedly representing the support of my city for our armed forces, is exclusionary; it obviously does not speak for me, nor does it honor foxhole atheists.  Any campaign that is purportedly intended to engender community pride and identity should include all constituents; yet the religious message is inherently divisive and entirely undermines the very intent of their “support the troops” program.
The city rejected outright my request for a more appropriate poster. In fact, one of the councilmembers went out of her way to write a letter to me, claiming that it was *I* who was being exclusionary and intolerant; and that if the council were to actually do what I was requesting, then I would be excluding and depriving the rights of the 85% or more of constituents who thought the “God Bless America” message was just fine.
In response to this counterclaim, I suggested that if the council felt that taking down the current poster would deprive anyone of their rights, then perhaps they would consider putting up a second poster specifically identifying nontheist city supporters and specifically honoring foxhole atheists, in order to present a more balanced and inclusive display presentation.  I am now waiting to hear the council’s response to that suggestion, despite strongly suspecting that this compromise, too, will be dismissed.
I have been posting the history of this controversy at http://SecularSimi.blogspot.com.  You’ll find a picture of the current poster there as well.

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