Atheist to open Greece, NY meeting with its first secular invocation

WikimediaThe Town Hall of Greece, New York

Atheist activist Dan Courtney will deliver the first atheist invocation in a town hall meeting in Greece, New York on Tuesday at 6 p.m. ET.

The city was at the center of a May Supreme Court decision that allowed prayers in town meetings. Courtney made his request to pray at the board meeting immediately following the ruling.

Town supervisor William Reilich said that a variety of belief systems have been represented since the case closed.

"It's not unusual that we have diversity," he told the Associated Press. "It's whoever comes up from the community."

Reilich also said that there have not been any protests or negative effects from having non-Christians speakers, which have included a pagan Wiccan.

"The only unusual thing here is that this group notified the press," he said. "They're making more of this than there usually is."

In response to the Supreme Court decision, atheist groups in Pennsylvania and Illinois have offered secular "prayers" in town meetings. One atheist activist said he hopes other nontheistic persons will do the same.

Courtney said that his speech will be about inclusion.

"For too long the invocations at these meetings were invitation only affairs, as if the public space was a private club," he wrote on Facebook. "The result was over a decade of solely Christian prayer."

Some municipalities in Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia are enacting measures to ensure that only Christian prayers are allowed in their public meetings.

David Williamson was the first non-Christian to deliver an invocation at the Osceola County, Florida board of commissioners meeting. His June 16 speech focused on giving and the importance of community.

"Through the millennia we as a society have learned the best way to govern the people is for the people to govern themselves," he said in the invocation.