Last month, atheist Dan Courtney delivered an invocation at the Greece (New York) Town Board meeting, making him the first atheist to do so at the focal point of this spring’s Supreme Court ruling.
Remember: This is the town that had overwhelmingly Christian prayers (to Jesus Christ, no less, not a generic God) for several years before two residents stepped in and challenged them.
Even after that, the board only had a few token non-Christians give invocations before going right back to all Christians all the time.
That’s what led to a legal battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court, where a 5-4 majority ruled in favor of the town, 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).
Well, the Town of Greece looks to be heading right back in that unconstitutional direction.
According to the Center For Inquiry, the town’s new invocation policy says that officials there are going right back to limiting prayer to religious residents only: (Edit: I originally wrote that CFI filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain the policy. Actually, Susan Galloway filed the request.)
The invocation shall be voluntarily delivered by an appointed representative of an Assemblies List for the Town of Greece. To ensure that the person (the “invocation speaker”) is selected from among a wide pool of representatives, on a rotating basis, the invocation speaker shall be selected according to the following procedure:
a) The Clerk to the Town Board (the “Clerk”) shall compile and maintain a database (the “Assemblies List”) of the assemblies with an established presence in the Town of Greece that regularly meet for the primary purpose of sharing a religious perspective (hereinafter referred to as a religious assembly).
b) The Assemblies List shall be compiled by using reasonable efforts, including research on the Internet, to identify all “churches,” “synagogues,” “congregations,” “temples,” “mosques” or other religious assemblies in the Town of Greece. All religious assemblies with an established presence in the Town of Greece are eligible to be included in the Assemblies List, and any such religious assembly can confirm its inclusion by specific written request to the Clerk.
So they’ll make a giant list of religious leaders and choose speakers from there. What happens if you’re not part of a religious group in the area? Apparently, you’re out of luck.
The new policy was proposed and adopted on Tuesday.
CFI is warning them that this is not the path on which they should be traveling:
“If this policy does, in effect, bar the nonreligious from delivering invocations, it would represent a disappointing step backward for the Town of Greece,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of CFI.
… notably absent from the Town’s list is any method for a secular individual or group to be able to deliver a solemnizing invocation. The Center for Inquiry will monitor the implementation of the Town of Greece’s policy in conjunction with local residents, in an effort to ensure that the Town of Greece does what it has promised to do: provide a non-discriminatory invocation policy, open for all residents of the town, rather than an opportunity for religious groups to proselytize.
This should be easy to test. A member of a local atheist group just has to make a request to deliver an invocation, then see how the town responds.
Isn’t it amazing how Greece officials have learned nothing over the past few years? Despite winning their Supreme Court case, they still don’t have the right to exclude atheists from being part of the invocation rotation. But they seem to be heading right back to the courthouse.
(Large portions of this article were posted earlier)