The town at the heart of May’s Supreme Court
decision approving sectarian prayer at public meetings has adopted new rules
that may exclude atheist invocations.
On August 19, Greece, N.Y., adopted
new rules for who can deliver a prayer or invocation before its
public meetings. Those rules include “religious clergy” and “religious
assemblies,” but make no mention of the nonreligious, such as atheists and
In May, the Supreme Court ruled in Town of
Greece v. Galloway that sectarian prayers before public meetings do
not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment as long as there is
no discrimination in determining who may give them.
“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 of the
Center For Inquiry, a First Amendment watchdog organization.
Brian Marianetti, attorney for the town of
Greece, said he did not know if atheists would be permitted to give an
invocation under the rules.
“I can’t say one way or another,” he said. Each
speaker will be “decided on a case-by-case basis.”
The rules, obtained through a Freedom of
Information Act request by an atheist group, also state a city clerk will
compile an annual list of churches, synagogues, temples and mosques from which
representatives may be drawn to open public meetings with a prayer or
invocation. It makes no mention of any type of assembly of nonbelievers.
One local atheist has already given an invocation
in Greece. Dan Courtney, a member of the Atheist Community of Rochester, N.Y.,
opened the city’s July 15 meeting.
Earlier this week, the board of commissioners in
Brevard County, Florida, voted to prevent atheists from delivering invocations
before its meetings.