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Chicago chapter member gives invocation

Howard Katz gives a secular invocation in front of the Illinois General Assembly on March 1.

Howard Katz, a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation Metropolitan Chicago Chapter, gave a secular invocation to open the Illinois General Assembly on March 1. He was told he was the first humanist celebrant, and perhaps even the first secularist ever, to deliver an invocation to the Assembly.

Here is the invocation he gave:

Good morning. My name is Howard Katz, and my title is that of a humanist celebrant.

Ukrainian poet Lina Kostenko once said, “Courage is not something one can rent.” It takes courage to come to this room and decide on a daily basis what must be done to enrich the lives of all who live within the state of Illinois. Your work is to make sure that each of us can live in safety, that we can live our lives with our loved ones as we wish, that our children can learn the realities of the world in peace and safety, that health care decisions are available to all on an equal basis.

Each of us is a minority, with respect to something. It might be race, religion, sexual orientation, nationality or any other way we may be regarded as different. Each of us is also part of some majority. It is when we wear our majority hats that we need to be most mindful of how we treat others. We must pledge our best efforts to help one another.

We can, as human beings, be rational in our approach to issues. Reason and science can help us solve the problems facing all of us, but only if we do so with the idea of cooperation and not as adversaries. By building on this, we should and can, work toward a future that, for generations, will allow for a culture that recognizes the ability of every person to live up to their full potential as they wish. But this happens only when we live and lead by example and not by coercion in thought or belief.

Science educator Neil deGrasse Tyson once said: “I think the greatest of people in society carved niches that represented the unique expression of their combinations of talents, and if everyone had the luxury of expressing the unique combinations of talents in this world, our society would be transformed overnight.” We must as a society do what we can to encourage people’s talents — not as a means of controlling ideas or thought processes, not as a means to control anyone’s personal autonomy, but as a means of enriching each and every person in our state in their pursuit of their individual growth and potential.

Today, let us remember that when we share with others that which is most important to us, listening begins.

When we acknowledge the concerns of others, when we say those concerns matter, compassion begins.

When we stand united against hatred, violence, and injustice, courage begins.

When we experience the full presence of each other, because of our shared humanity, in spite of our disagreements, this is where understanding begins.

May we be open to others’ ideas and beliefs, respectful of our differences, not threatened by them.

May we grow in understanding of our own motives. May we replace fear with knowledge, helping us to be patient and charitable in our dialogue.

While we often focus on our differences, today let us also seek to understand the ideals and values we share.

Today and tomorrow, let us value one another more than we did yesterday.

Thank you.