The plaintiff in the precedent setting US Supreme Court case, Town of Greece v. Galloway, recently developed and adopted guidelines in choosing the person or people who could give invocations at the start of their meetings. Unfortunately it looks like the town ignored the courts prohibition on discrimination. The guidelines seem to exclude the nonreligious from being chosen to lead their pre-meeting invocations.
In response to the May 5 ruling by the Supreme Court on prayer before legislative meetings, the Town of Greece in New York has issued its new policy for the selection of those who will be invited to deliver an invocation, a policy that the Center for Inquiry fears will serve to shut out the nonreligious from participation.
Throughout the new policy document, the Town of Greece refers to the target group of invocation speakers as “religious assemblies.” The only people to be invited to deliver prayers are those who are “appointed representative[s] of an Assemblies List.” This annually amended list is to include “all ‘churches,’ ‘synagogues,’ ‘congregations,’ ‘temples,’ ‘mosques’ or other religious assemblies in the Town of Greece.” Indeed, the sample invitation letter to be sent to speakers starts with the greeting “Dear Religious Leader.”
While the Supreme Court ruled that there is no violation of the Establishment Clause when a prayer with religious content is delivered before a town meeting, Justice Kennedy also made clear that this was dependent on the town maintaining a policy of non-discrimination, and noted that the Town of Greece had “represented that it would welcome a prayer by any minister or layman who wished to give one.”
Unfortunately, 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.
The guidelines were adopted last week so we will see if the town allows a nonreligious person to lead the invocation. If not, then there will probably be another lawsuit.
The Town of Greese isn’t the only government body trying to exclude the nonreligious. The Brevard County Florida Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously against allowing an atheist to deliver an invocation AND voted to limit comments by the nonreligious to the regular public comments part of their meetings.
I’m not surprised that religious people would try to discriminate against atheists after having their privilege affirmed by the court. That is why we need strict separation of church and state.