AUGUSTA — A year after Thomas Waddell opened a session of the Maine House of Representatives by reading a “secular” invocation, he did the same thing in the opposite chamber.

Just past 10 a.m. Thursday, the Litchfield man read a short set of remarks to the few senators who had made it to their space in the south wing of the State House.

He urged them “to rely on and trust in the collective character, honesty and integrity of your colleagues,” before reading quotations by Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams and thanking the lawmakers for their sacrifice.

BELIEFS ON HIS SLEEVE

More unusual, Waddell made no reference to God or Jesus in his brief remarks, as many of the invocations that open sessions of the Maine Legislature do.

That’s because the 70-year-old doesn’t believe in higher powers.

He’s an atheist, a fact that was practically on his sleeve Thursday.

On the front of his blazer were several gleaming pins, including one in the shape of the letter A, and another that depicted a fish that had grown a pair of legs – a nod to Darwin’s theory of evolution.

“When our state legislators take time out at the beginning of the day to reflect on the solemnness and the importance of the job,” he said in an interview afterward, “I would rather see (them) rely on something a little more tangible than a supernatural being. They can rely on the very real character, honesty and wisdom of their fellow workers. That’s where real inspiration comes from.”

Waddell, whose personal views run to the left on the political spectrum, is a vocal advocate for the separation of church and state that’s outlined in the U.S. Constitution.

Waddell writes columns for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. He also serves as president of the Maine Chapter of the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

Based on his own research, he thinks his remarks Thursday could have been the first secular invocation that’s been read before a session of the Maine Senate.

Besides encouraging lawmakers to find inspiration in their own colleagues, Waddell also hopes that his invocations have staked out a place for different views and beliefs in state and local government, whether they are religious or not.

Prayers have been read in Congress since it was formed more than two centuries ago. The right to do so was affirmed in a 2014 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case Town of Greece v. Galloway.

But the court also has indicated that the practice could violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution if it includes a pattern of denigrating other faith systems, whether in the prayers themselves or in the decisions about which prayers to allow.

INVITED BY BELLOWS

Waddell delivered his invocation at the invitation of Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, who said in an interview that she has tried to bring an array of people with religious and nonreligious views into the State House.

“The invocation before the Senate is supposed to be open to all people of all faiths, including no faith,” said Bellows, the former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.

“That’s why I have invited folks ranging from Tom to the pastor at Hope Baptist Church in Manchester to the (pastor at the) Episcopal church in Gardiner, because I think that religious liberty is a founding principle in our country.”

Bellows also expressed disappointment that more senators were not able to hear Waddell’s invocation, as Senate President Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, convened the daily proceedings more quickly than usual on Thursday.

Because of that, most senators hadn’t arrived by the time Waddell delivered his remarks.

Thibodeau’s chief of staff, Robert Caverly, said the Senate president was trying to move the proceedings along quickly so that the body would have time to vote on legislation funding the Downeast Correctional Facility for another year.

Charles Eichacker can be contacted at 621-5642 or at:

[email protected]