Officials in Keller, Texas, reportedly denied an atheist the chance to deliver an invocation at a city council meeting on Tuesday, with the mayor instead offering a last-minute prayer in his place.
Atheist Zachary Moore has reportedly already given the invocation at three city council meetings over the past year, but after he noticed a pattern unfolding in which a local pastor would follow his invocation with a Christian prayer, he began speaking out.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist activist group, also fired off a letter to Keller officials last week, though it is unclear how the letter pertained to the purported decision not to allow Moore to pray at Tuesday's meeting.
The letter said that government officials must offer equal prayer opportunities to atheists, and said that they cannot make "a special show of diluting their message with a subsequent Christian prayer."
Moore said that he's "concerned" over that very pattern, and believes that Keller officials are discriminating.
"It does kind of concern me a bit," he told KTVT-TV. "It occurred to me that what was actually happening is still a form of discrimination."
But Pastor John Salvesen of the Bear Creek Bible Church in Keller, Texas, who oversees the invocation schedule and who has regularly prayed after Moore's invocations, told the outlet that he sees a problem with atheists' prayer arguments: he doesn't believe that Moore is actually praying.
"So, you can pray in the name of Jesus or the name of Allah ... any other deity," the pastor said. "Supreme Court guarantees that ... but Mr. Moore does not provide a prayer."
Moore, though, said that he wants to do whatever he can to be "treated equally by the city of Keller."
It is currently unclear what will happen next, though Keller officials are examining a new policy to oversee prayer, KTVT-TV reported.
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Prayer at public meetings continues to be a contentious subject, with the Supreme Court ruling in the landmark 2014 Greece vs. Galloway case that opening invocations do not violate the U.S. Constitution — even if invocations sometimes stress Christianity.
The 5-4 decision in Greece vs. Galloway offered a win to the town of Greece, New York, a suburb of Rochester that had been defending prayers routinely offered at its meetings.
The landmark ruling fell in line with a 1983 decision that dealt with a similar scenario in the Nebraska legislature.
The Supreme Court majority ruled that offering prayers is constitutional so long as government officials make an effort to be inclusive of all faiths, though CNN reported at the time that the ruling was specific to Greece and gave little guidance to other communities grappling with similar issues.
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