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Austin Cline

Newton, New Jersey: No More Lord's Prayer

By January 23, 2009

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The town council of Newton, New Jersey, has opened their meetings for the past sixty years with the Lord's Prayer an explicitly sectarian, Christian prayer. They've never seen anything wrong with this official endorsement of Christian beliefs but now that an atheist has raised an objection their lawyer is telling them to stop. There is no way that they could win a lawsuit and they know it.

What this means is that they would have happily continued to knowingly and deliberately break the law if only no annoying atheists had been around to insist that the law be followed. This is something atheists need to keep pushing: that Christians adhere to neutral legal standards, even when that means they must abandon traditional privileges they have grown to assume they have a right to.

Council members said they were saddened -- but not really surprised -- they had to end a tradition begun in 1952.

"It's not a surprise, but I'm disappointed that we had to cave into this or we would've been open to a lawsuit," said longtime Councilwoman Thea Unhoch. "You can't even say 'Merry Christmas' anymore."

Source: USA Today

It's sad, but hardly a surprise to see someone link this to "Merry Christmas." The two issues aren't actually connected in any legal sense, but they are connected in the sense that both are a sign of the decline of Christian privilege. Happy Holidays is preferable to Merry Christmas because Christians are no longer occupying a privileged place in society. The Lord's Prayer is not longer acceptable in official government functions because Christians can no longer dominate the state like they once did.

Naturally all of this upsets many Christians because they don't like not being able to dominate society. It is, however, a situation they are going to have to get used to because non-Christians in America will not be willing to return to a second-class status. Christianity must cease to be a privileged class of beliefs, institutions, traditions, and people just as "male" and "white" must cease to be privileged classes in America. It will take a long time for this process to be complete, but it must happen.

January 26, 2009 at 12:38 pm
(1) tamar says:

A hearty “YAY” when that particular process completes.

Of course, new issues will be percolating when that happens, but one step at a time. That’s how a society advances.

January 30, 2009 at 4:52 pm
(2) George Gauthier says:

The Lord’s Prayer is particular sectarian because there are two versions. Protestants typically include the clause or doxology at the end in the version found in the version from Matthew:
“For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.”
A Catholic would never say it that way. It smacks or Protestantism. Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia

“Most scholars do not consider the doxloly part of the original text of Matthew, and modern translations do not include it. ….Latin Rite Roman Catholics do not use it when reciting the Lord’s Prayer, but it has been included as an independent item, not as part of the Lordqzqs Prayer, in the 1970 revision of the Mass. A minority, generally fundamentalists, posit that the doxology was so important that early manuscripts of Matthew neglected it due to its obviousness, though several other quite obvious things are mentioned in the Gospels. ”
I particularly like the tendentious argument fundamentalists use to explain away the absence of the doxology in Matthew. Such willful blindness.

January 31, 2009 at 2:31 pm
(3) Drew says:

I posted a comment on the original USA Today article.

January 30, 2012 at 8:10 am
(4) Lee says:

If we take God out of America we will no longer have His blessing and America will suffer greatly, Christian, Muslim, Atheist, we will all suffer.

February 14, 2012 at 3:19 pm
(5) John Thomson(jethom33545) says:

A quick read of our Constitution would do Lee good.. God was deliberately left out of our country’s founding document. We are all free to worship, believe or not believe as we wish.Stop projecting your religious rears on others. You want to force your religion on others whether they want it or not. You miss the whole point of the First Amendment.

February 14, 2012 at 5:00 pm
(6) OZAtheist says:


If we can get rid of the American obsession with God then the whole World will be better off.

February 15, 2012 at 4:55 am
(7) Andy says:

It may interest you that there’s been a similar case in the UK.

February 17, 2012 at 5:58 am
(8) Grandpa_In_The_East says:


Regarding your articles’s opening line about the Newton, New Jersey town council opening with the so-called ” Lord’s Prayer.” You say it is sectarian.” So what? It if were ecumenical would that make it OK?

I don’t think so. Prayer has no place in government functions. Any devoted “Christian” should bare witness to me here, though it is not likely. Honesty is relegated to the back of the church bus while “priviledge” sets up front. I apologize to those for whom this brings back bad memories. I am ashamed of those times.

I do not care if a stinking prayer offends just one in a thousand, it is a wrong for the 999 (or more) worshipers.


“Not one man in a thousand has either strength of mind or goodness of heart to be an Atheist. I repeat it. Not one man in a thousand has either strength of mind or goodness of heart to be an Atheist.– Samuel Taylor Coleridge. (Borrowed from positiveatheism.org).

February 17, 2012 at 8:49 pm
(9) Sally says:

Exactly, OZAtheist.

We poor convict-descended sinners find it difficult to understand, much less appreciate, the Seppos’* obsession with their invisible friend.

Mind you, it makes it easier for them to engage with other equally loopy god-botherers around the world!

*Seppo < Septic Tank = Yank, American

February 19, 2012 at 5:39 pm
(10) OZAtheist says:

I know that to refer to Americans as Seppos is common in Australia. I think that many Americans may take offense however. Not because of the “septic tank” label though ….. the Southerners would take most objection to being referred to as “Yankees”.

February 24, 2012 at 3:43 pm
(11) Grandpa_In_The_East says:

“…Southerners would take most objection to being referred to as ‘Yankees’.”

You dang tootin, an’ don’t you fergit it you…you whippersnapper! You!


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