Organizers of Kansas City's St. Patrick's Day parade in Westport have barred a local atheist organization from having a float in Sunday's event.
Parade organizers defend their decision, but the atheist group is concerned about what they think is a misunderstanding.
The parade's website and Facebook page say the parade is not only for people of Irish descent or for the Catholic faith. The parade is intended to be an inclusive parade for the entire Kansas City community.
Sarah Hargreaves, president of the Atheist Coalition, was surprised by the 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," she 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."
The group was allowed to participate in an AIDS walk in Kansas City and carry its banners that included "Positively Godless." The organization said they raised funds for the AIDS foundation and awareness about the group's existence and mission. Hargreaves said they were able to demonstrate that they are friendly and compassionate individuals.
"It just really raised awareness of who we are, and we got a lot of really great feedback from the event," Hargreaves said. "We thought it was a natural step then to participate in other parades, so we thought we'd try the St. Patrick's Day parade, and we were really surprised when our application was denied."
In a statement, organizers of the St. Patrick's Day parade said the event celebrates the feast day of St. Patrick, who is the patron saint of Ireland, and the Christian teachings and beliefs for which he lived.
"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.' 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 statement says.
A mass is held before the start of the parade, and a priest then blesses the route. Kansas City's first St. Patrick's Day parade was in 1873.
Hargreaves insists that there is nothing offensive in the group's message.
"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," she said.
She said the group has partnered with religious organizations for common causes, such as volunteering for the past two years to deliver holiday meals for the Kansas City Rescue Mission.
As a compromise, KCAC offered to only use a banner with their website only on it. But they aren't going to be allowed to participate Sunday, which Hargreaves said is discriminatory.
"I think they are seeking to justify and rationalize discrimination," she said.
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