(RNS) 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 Tuesday (Aug. 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 humanists.
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, Fla., voted to prevent atheists from delivering invocations before its meetings.
YS/AMB END WINSTON