The Supreme Court’s validation of prayer at government meetings in the contentious Greece vs. Galloway case earlier this year has done little to stem the debate over public invocations, with atheists working to ensure secular “prayers” are offered at government meetings in localities across the nation.
And now town board officials in Greece, New York, where the nation’s most recent prayer dispute unfolded, are being accused of implementing a new policy that critics say could exclude atheists.
The Center for Inquiry, a secular activist group, said it is “disappointed” by the guidelines for selecting clergy to deliver prayers, noting that they “appear to exclude the nonreligious from delivering an invocation.”
After already being accused of excluding atheists in the Greece vs. Galloway case, this is only the latest accusation in an ever-contentious and ongoing battle between government officials who say they want to uphold national tradition and secularists intent on making their voices heard.
“If this policy does, in effect, bar the nonreligious from delivering invocations, it would represent a disappointing step backward for the Town of Greece,” Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry, said in a press release.
Lindsay and his group are concerned over language in Greece’s new written policies affirming that leaders from “religious assemblies” will be invited to pray at board meetings.
The organization is charging that the town’s parameters offer no “method for a secular individual or group to be able to deliver a solemnizing invocation.”
The policy, which was unanimously adopted August 19, lays out the foundations through which “religious leaders” are selected for inclusion in a public prayer database called an “assemblies list.”
Each year, the clerk to the town board will compile this database, including groups “with an established presence in the Town of Greece that regularly meet for the primary purpose of sharing a religious perspective.” These groups will be invited to send a leader to pray, if they so choose.
“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,” according to the policy. “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.”
The document does note, though, that invocations may also consist of a “solemnizing statement,” which leaves the door open to secular participants, it would seem.
Nowhere in the text are atheist leaders explicitly forbidden from participating. But the text does claim that clergy are the most prepared and suited members of society to offer up these prayers.
“The Town Board believes that clergy that serve the local community are peculiarly suited through training, tradition, and public service to petition for divine guidance upon the deliberations of the Town Board, and to accomplish the Town Board’s objective to solemnize public occasions, express confidence in the future, and to encourage the recognition of what is worthy of appreciation in society,” the document reads.
A request for comment from members of the Greece town board was not immediately returned to TheBlaze.
The Center for Inquiry said it plans to monitor how officials in Greece implement the policy to ensure that there is no discrimination against nonbelievers.
Atheist blogger Hemant Mehta noted that it will be easy for secularists to see how the town responds by simply requesting the right to pray at a future meeting and seeing what happens.
A similar debate has been waged over the Brevard County Board of County Commissioners’ decision in Florida to restrict atheist invocations.
TheBlaze has previously analyzed where Americans stand on including prayer at public meetings, finding that they are overwhelmingly supportive of it with some caveats.
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