From 1999 through 2007, Christians delivered every single invocation prayer at the meetings of the Greece (New York) Town Board. They weren’t prayers to a generic “God” either — they were specifically praying to Jesus Christ and the God of Christianity.
Even after town residents Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens spoke out against the practice, the board only went with a non-Christian invocation-giver at four of its next twelve meetings… before going back to their preferred Christian prayers.
As everyone knows by now, Stephens and Galloway sued the board over this and took their case to the Supreme Court, where a 5-4 majority ruled against them, setting the stage for government meetings everywhere to open with sectarian prayers at the speaker’s discretion.
The silver lining to the case was that atheists weren’t excluded from giving those invocations (and no city could reject them). They could even give openly non-religious speeches if they wanted, though, so far, we’ve only seen atheists give remarks that are inclusive of everybody (which is the better route, anyway).
And on July 15, for the first time since the Supreme Court’s ruling, an atheist will deliver an invocation during the town of Greece’s board meeting.
Dan Courtney, a member of the Atheist Community of Rochester, will deliver the invocation and speak at the press conference, as will representatives of other organizations in support of church-state separation. Courtney’s invocation will center on the theme of inclusion in America, and how the Supreme Court’s decision in Greece v. Galloway conflicts with that ideal.
“The Supreme Court’s ill-reasoned decision in Greece v. Galloway opened the floodgates to government endorsement of particular religions, casting nonbelievers and those with minority religious views as second-class citizens,” said [president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry Ron] Lindsay. “But one recourse available to nonreligious Americans is to ensure that the beliefs of the majority are not the only ones expressed at these meetings, and that the voices of atheists, humanists, and other nonbelievers are also heard. It is fitting that we undertake such an effort at a board meeting of the Town of Greece itself.”
CFI will hold a press conference immediately after the invocation is delivered.
Hopefully, Courtney’s non-religious speech is only the first of many such speeches the Greece board members will have to hear. (Be careful what you wish for, right?)