WASHINGTON, D.C. — Todd Stiefel, chair of the new coalition Openly Secular, today released the following statement on efforts to block nonreligious people from offering invocations at public meetings:
We are disappointed to hear the Town of Greece, NY and Brevard County, FL are seeking to change their policies and deny atheists and agnostics the opportunity to give invocations at town and county meetings.
Just last month, we were thrilled to see atheist Dan Courtney front and center at a Greece town board meeting giving the invocation, the first time an atheist had been able to participate in the community at the center of the recent U.S. Supreme Court public prayer decision, which ultimately said legislative prayer does not violate the Constitution but that anyone should be allowed to give it regardless of their faith.
The new Greece policy reversal flies of that ruling and specifically one of the reasons the Court allowed the invocations to continue. The ruling stated the invocations were legal, in part because the town's "leaders maintained that a minister or layperson of any persuasion, including an atheist, could give the invocation." Creating an exclusive list of approved religious institutions goes against the intent of the Supreme Court.
We are also frustrated to read that atheists in Brevard County, FL may have to bring a religious discrimination suit to ensure they are able to give invocations at commission meetings.
We hope these are two isolated incidents and that ultimately, we will not see a larger trend over time. Atheists, agnostics and any nonreligious persons should be allowed to offer invocations and participate in governmental meetings equal to that of religious citizens, and we look forward to the day when all Americans are given that opportunity, regardless of beliefs.