Magazine article Church & State

New Town of Greece Prayer Policy Hay Exclude Certain Beliefs

Magazine article Church & State

New Town of Greece Prayer Policy Hay Exclude Certain Beliefs

Article excerpt

The Town Board of Greece, N.Y., recently issued its formal policy on pre-meeting prayers, leading to a combination of confusion and backlash.

Five months ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that while communities are free to open their meetings with predominantly Christian prayers, they may not exclude other points of view. Since that decision in Greece v. Galloway was handed down in May, one local resident who is an atheist has offered a pre-meeting message. But that was before the advent of the formal policy, which was released on August 19.

The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle analyzed the town's new policy and concluded that atheists may not be allowed to participate in the future. Speakers will be chosen from "assemblies with an established presence in the town of Greece that regularly meet for the primary purpose of sharing a religious perspective," the policy states.

When the details emerged, it led to some outrage. While it seems this anger is justified by at least some of the policy details, there is also a bit of confusion. Americans United attorneys analyzed the prayer requirements and made two key conclusions:

* The policy seems to let atheists offer invocations if they are associated with a group that gathers to discuss members' beliefs, but that point should be clarified. (There are two non-theistic groups that could meet these standards in or near Greece.)

* The policy allows those who deliver the invocation to choose the invocation's content; this means the person delivering the invocation could choose to open with a moment of silence or a solemnizing message rather than a prayer.

But AU attorneys have some major concerns, suggesting that the policy is a bait-and-switch that drastically shrinks the pool of potential invocation-givers. AU pointed out that the new policy requires any invocation-giver to be a "leader" or "appointed representative" of an "assembly," and that "assembly" must have an "established presence in the Town of Greece" or be "regularly attended by at least one resident of the Town of Greece. …

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