Town’s prayer policy raises new questions


Reposted from USA Today

Secular groups are accusing the town of Greece of slamming the door on atheists with a new set of guidelines for invocations at public meetings.

The Town Board adopted its first formal policy on the matter last week, roughly 3½ months after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the board’s practice of opening meetings with a prayer as long as local officials do not discriminate against minority faiths.

Until now, the town had no written rules on selecting who can give an invocation.

The policy says that now, speakers will represent “assemblies with an established presence in the town of Greece that regularly meet for the primary purpose of sharing a religious perspective.” Assemblies outside the town can participate too if at least one Greece resident attends them regularly and specifically asks in writing for them to be included.

Those rules fly in the face of what the town told the U.S. Supreme Court, which was that people of any persuasion, including lay people and atheists, could give invocations, said Gregory M. Lipper, senior litigation counsel for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Nowhere do the rules mention non-religious people, nor individuals who do not belong to an organized religious group.

“It’s an enormous bait and switch,” said Lipper, whose group represented plaintiffs Susan Galloway, who is Jewish, and Linda Stephens, an atheist, in the suit that reached the nation’s top court — town of Greece v. Galloway.


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