Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

Kansas City Atheist Coalition Barred from Marching in St. Patrick’s Day Parade

An atheist group has been barred from marching in Kansas City’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade, despite the event’s organizers declaring that it is “open to all.”

The Kansas City Atheist Coalition (KCAC) has been denied participation in this year’s parade because, according to the Kansas City St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, it “celebrates the Feast Day of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, and the Christian teachings and beliefs that he lived and suffered for.”

“It was with respect for the legacy of St. Patrick that the parade committee turned down the Atheist Coalition’s application to participate in this year’s procession,” the committee’s statement added.

But KCAC cites the parade’s website, which states that parade events are “open to all, Irish or not, Catholic or not,” as proof that it is being discriminated against.

“When I asked for further clarification for the reason of the declination, they told us they were an Irish Catholic organization, that the theme of the parade was the gathering of the clans,” KCAC vice president Josh Hyde told KSBW. “We were told it was because we wouldn’t be a good fit into the theme of the parade.”

According to KSBW, the parade committee is a nonprofit organization unaffiliated with any specific religion. The parade includes symbols and activities associated with the secular side of St. Patrick’s Day, including leprechauns, shamrocks and drinking green beer.

“The parade committee now claims the parade is a deeply Catholic event only as a justification and rationalization of their patent religious discrimination against atheists,” KCAC member Lindsey Burns said.

KCAC named several secular groups that participated in last year’s parade, including an animal rescue group, a renaissance festival, a plumbing company and a major soft drink corporation.

“It’s unfortunate that something that is so publicly perceived as a community event would choose to exclude members of the community for the simple fact that they have no religious belief,” Hyde wrote on the KCAC website.

KCAC president Sarah Hargreaves told KCTV that she was surprised by the parade committee’s rejection.

“A lot of what our goal is as an organization is really to let people know that atheists are an important part of our community,” Hargreaves said. “I think a lot of people have probably met atheists and don’t realize it, because atheists make decisions a lot of times to stay closeted and not let people know for fear of people having a negative perception of them.”

KCAC has participated in other local events, including an AIDS walk in which group members carried a banner reading “Positively Godless.”

“It just really raised awareness of who we are, and we got a lot of really great feedback from the event,” Hargreaves told KCTV. “We thought it was a natural step, then, to participate in other parades.”

KCAC has worked with religious groups in the past on such projects as delivering holiday meals for the Kansas City Rescue Mission.

The parade’s organizers released a statement in which they objected to KCAC’s message.

“The Atheist Coalition’s published mission is to advance godlessness through activism, and its stated intent regarding the 2013 parade was to carry banners with phrases such as ‘positively godless’ and ‘morals without mythology,'” the statement read. “It was with respect for the legacy of St. Patrick that the parade committee turned down the Atheist Coalition’s application to participate in this year’s procession.”

KCAC attempted to reach a compromise with parade organizers by which group members marching in the event would only carry a banner with KCAC’s web address, but the organizers were not swayed.

“I think they are seeking to justify and rationalize discrimination,” Hargreaves told KCTV. “The KCAC mission is not to go to churches and tell them that their beliefs are ridiculous. Our mission is to appeal to existing non-believers.”

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