Judge OKs City Council Prayers August 9, 2010

Judge OKs City Council Prayers

U.S. District Judge Charles Siragusa has ruled that the Greece (New York) City Council can open its meetings with prayer:

The judge signed an order Thursday tossing out a lawsuit filed by two residents of the town of Greece who had complained that prayers held at the start of town council meetings favored Christians and violated the separation of church and state.

U.S. District Judge Charles Siragusa noted that government bodies throughout the country routinely invite religious leaders to make invocations at the start of public meetings.

He said those prayers are acceptable as long as the town body isn’t proselytizing or advancing any one faith at the expense of others.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State lost the case. They’re deciding whether or not to appeal.

In any case, I can think of one way to combat this.

Atheists need to get on that slate as often as possible to deliver secular invocations.

While we’re at it, keep track of how often Jesus in invoked and Allah is not. Let’s see how balanced the prayers really are… At what point would it be considered advancing a particular faith?

Anyone have better solutions?

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  • Evan

    I really get tired of judges ruling on the basis that “well, other people do it, too” or “it’s kind of a tradition now, so no harm”. I say appeal. That’s a cop-out ruling.

    In the meantime, I like the idea of filling the docket with humanist/secular invocations. Test their so-called ‘inclusiveness’.

  • The Other Tom

    “Anyone have better solutions?”

    Show up and offer satanist prayers, frequently. Invite your local pagans to show up and offer prayers. As soon as they find themselves having to deal with prayers that offend their christianist sensibilities, they’ll suddenly find a desire to get rid of the prayers at the meetings.

  • Fett101

    I think a better way to fight this is to get wiccans, pagans, and satanists up there with opening prayers. 😀

  • Daniel

    The first thing that came to my mind:

  • A couple of possibilities:

    1) Get selected to do a “christian” invocation, but chose verses that aren’t exactly “inspirational”:

    O yahweh, who opened up the earth and swallowed alive those israelites who practiced free speech and independent thinking, guide the doscussion tonight,

    and jesus, who filled a group of pigs with demons and drove them off a cliff to their death, make your presence clearly seen in these town officials

    Broadcast it on YouTube for greater effect.

    2) get invocations for every deity in the pantheon in the docket so that jesus gets called on once a year at most-after having to pay respect to vishnu, woden, zeus, mithra, ra, et al. for a few months, the religious devotion of the officials will begin to wane in zeal.

  • John Small Berries

    Get selected to do a Christian invocation, and read aloud Matthew 6:5-7:

    And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

  • Gafaso

    Yeah, the “advancing any one faith at the expense of others” is really the key here. These people will be happy as clams until someone decides to offer (and mustn’t be refused) to represent another point of view.

  • I don’t think there should be invocations at government functions, so I don’t like the idea of trying to do ‘secular invocations’. I know some people have pulled it off, but the idea doesn’t sit right with me. If we don’t agree with them, we shouldn’t participate in them. That just makes it easier for them to say ‘look, we are letting everyone do it, so it’s fair.’

    If someone else did do it, especially if someone could find a Satanist or Wiccan to do it… It would be good if they played up the idea of the ‘we’ as in ‘we all agree about this’. A Satanist could say something like ‘We all agree, as a community, that we should give sacrifices to the Dark Lord of Hell, Prince of Darkness, Lord of Lies, Lucifer the Light Bringer, Satan’ and ‘Everyone in this city is in agreement, oh Lord Satan, that we need to reside under your divine protection’. This is how Christian prayers are usually said, assuming that everyone agrees with the statement, like ‘In God WE Trust’. Christians might see why others feel uncomfortable with the idea of Christian prayers being said at a government function. More likely they would just scoff and complain and then use it as an excuse to say whatever they wanted.

    The ADF, a Christian legal aid organization, is promoting a policy that cities can adopt in order to avoid problems, or if there are problems they say they will defend them. The policy is designed to distance the city from the statements made by the private individual, who is simply practicing their freedom of speech. In order to be selected to participate however, you need to be the clergy of a local recognized religious institution. So the minority, who may not have enough people to form a congregation, will not be represented. Also, it states that the invocation will not be published on the agenda…meaning you will have to be there if you want to see who gave the invocation, you can’t check it out by looking up the agenda up on the city website. This is something the city is clearly organizing, yet they don’t want to publish who is selected to give the invocation.

  • Alex

    Sounds like a job for the Flying Spaghetti Monster and a band of holy pirates!

  • Ron in Houston

    I have a solution – vote Democrat – that way you don’t have Federal judges who say a cross is not a “religious symbol.”

  • I do like the idea of preaching on the “nasty” Bible verses. Picking ones where the God character is genocidal, or when the Jesus character goes homicidal on a fig tree would be most appropriate, or ones that talk about beating slaves.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    I say get some Islamic prayers in there right now. Or attempt to, and keep track of how often they are refused. Make some use of the current wave of Islamophobia.

  • Javier

    I second the Flying Spaghetti Monster idea. Ramen!

  • Hemant suggests:

    I can think of one way to combat this.

    Atheists need to get on that slate as often as possible to deliver secular invocations.

    I think I disagree. Atheists and other secular-oriented people participating in the invocation system gives the impression that they are okay with the system as long as they get to participate too — it sends the message that if we have an invocation that doesn’t endorse Jesus on Tuesday, then it’s OK for the city council to endorse Jesus on Thursday. It isn’t OK for the city council to endorse Jesus on any day, and for that matter it isn’t OK for the city council to endorse atheism, either — the government should be neutral and not endorse anything.

    While we’re at it, keep track of how often Jesus in invoked and Allah is not. Let’s see how balanced the prayers really are… At what point would it be considered advancing a particular faith?

    That’s a better idea. In my trade we’d call that “gathering evidence.” And once you gather the evidence, it’s important to use it.

    AU should appeal. It should get the ACLU and FFRF to file amicus briefs. The Second Circuit strikes me as more likely to overrule this decision than to affirm it.

    Rather than participating in the invocations, Atheists and other secular folk should urge the council to repeal the invocation policy altogether. Council members who want to pray before the meeting are free to do so — alone, with one another, or with constituents, as they choose — on their own time, either before or after the meeting. Government entities have a public comment time; atheists should sign up for those public comments at every meeting of the council and a different person should appear at each weeks and say, in their own words, why they object to invocations being given at all.

  • Ben

    I love the idea of a secular invocation. However, I agree that it shouldn’t reflect an acceptance of the judge’s decision. We would need an invocation that is offensive enough to annoy the city council and make a point while being within the limits of the judges decision.

    I like the idea of a made-up religion’s invocation, like the festivus pole alongside civil nativity scenes. Perhaps an invocation from FSM?

  • Invite a broad array of religious leaders to open the meetings: any and all religions welcomed.

    Someone needs to pen some portable atheist/secular opening prayers well-wishes we could all uses in place of a “prayer”: something about hoping everyone uses clear logic, concepts and intentions consistent with a science-based understanding of how the world and society works, they proceed in accordance with the US Constitution and larger body of law, they strive to exceed our shared sensory and emotional limitations, work for the good of all members of society according to our shared humanist principles, etc.

  • Transplanted Lawyer beat me to the punch…what he said 🙂
    It’s important to distance ourselves from the activity instead of participating in it. We need to be documenting these events and collecting as much evidence as humanly possible for use in a future lawsuit.
    Hunt for rabbit, come loaded for bear.

  • I live here (and I think that you got this from the link I sent you on twitter).

    It bums me out, but I think I might try to make it to a few meetings here and there and maybe start to collect some data.

    Could be an interesting experiment.

  • I compiled a quick list (from the documents of who was speaking at each “moment of prayer”) for as far back as the electronic records go…

    07/20/2010 – Pastor Dan Astuto Greece Assembly of God Church
    06/15/2010 – Pastor Herb Lawrence of Lakeshore Community Church
    05/18/2010 – Pastor Jim Crowley of New Testament Christian Church
    04/13/2010 – Pastor Deano Pulice, Park Ridge Free Methodist Church
    03/16/2010 – Pastor Larry Stojkovic of Hope Lutheran Church
    02/16/2010 – Pastor Tedd Lewellen of The Savior’s Chapel
    01/19/2010 – Father Louis Sirianni of St. Mark’s Church
    12/15/2009 – Pastor Herb Lawrence of Lakeshore Community Church
    11/17/2009 – David Chikovsky, 30 Spring Creek Circle
    10/20/2009 – Rev. Patrick Medeiros of Greece Assembly of God Church

    …I do wish to know the essence of what David Chikovsky said. Maybe I could write him a letter and find out.

  • I must have a bad copy of the first amendment, there appears to be an “a” missing from my copy that must be present in certain other people’s copies.

    My copy just mentions “establishment of religion” instead of “establishment of a religion”. The way mine reads, it prohibits establishing the concept or practice of religion in general rather than a specific religion. The prayer invocation seems to clearly establish religion/ faith in general without enumerating a specific sect.

  • Guffey

    I second the attempt to include lots of islamic, hindu , wiccan etc… prayers. Secular invocations would be boring – skip those – but other religious prayers, lots of Allah-this and Krishna-that would get people reeling. It would have to happen many times – if there were 12 different faiths represented then only once a year would the christian prayer be read. Then watch, people would get pissed and try to stop the prayers.

  • @ Guffey
    The problem is who is picking the people to do the invocations. People here have said “we should get other people to give invocations…’ but it’s usually the city clerk or whoever is organizing the meeting who is 100% in control of who gets to give the invocation. Also, they usually won’t allow 12 different faiths to be represented in 12 months because they will say they only need to represent the faiths in their community and the way the figure out what those are is look in the phone book. If there happens to be some minority religion listed for some reason they will usually say that they only represent 1% of the towns population so they should only give invocations at 1% of meetings…not 8% (once every 12 months). 1% would mean giving invocations about once every 8 years. A better idea would be just don’t do them at all.

  • muggle

    I hope to see my membership dollars at work and AU appealing this. There seems to be an ongoing rush to grassroots forcing religion on the people by way of city council meetings. It’s always been an issue but the last year or so, it’s been an ongoing thing.

    I think this issue needs to be fought and won by whatever means necessary. On the court front and on the front of pissing them off with prayers they don’t want to listen to. I favor minority religions, especially things like Satanic or Wiccan prayers that will really freak them out. Or Islamic. Rather than secular readings because they say look the nonbelievers had their say too and they approve. To get them where they really live, we have to do the Devil worshipping crap on their ass.

    If we are going to do secular versions, I say don’t pull any punches and blaspheme like hell. Say things like may our minds be sound as there is no god to rely on. And, frankly, too few secularists are brave enough to say there is no God. We can’t be namby-pamby about this or we’ll get nowhere.

  • baconners

    In the bigger picture, why are there invocations at public meetings at all? Isn’t it absurd that government meetings must “invoke” some mystical force in the first place? Would they make poor decisions if they were not sobered first by some sacred references? Are these people giving the invocations being paid a small fee out of tax dollars for the service?
    Just start the meetings on time and with the purpose of public service.

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