Atheist gives ‘historic’ invocation in Greece

Jul 22, 2014

By Meaghan McDermott


Before a room full of cameras and reporters Tuesday, Dan Courtney of Hamlin became the first atheist to deliver a secular opening invocation before the Greece Town Board.

The national spotlight — reporters representing Reuters and The Associated Press were among those present — was prompted by a a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in May that allowed prayer before public meetings.

As soon as the atheist invocation was over, people began leaving the meeting and interrupting efforts by the Town Board to have a moment of silence for Deputy Supervisor Jerry Helfer, who died Sunday at age 48.

The invocation sideshow drew one protester who said he felt compelled to come, but not enough to identify himself.

Courtney was among the first people to contact the town in order to get on the invocation schedule after the decision came down on May 5, upholding the town’s prayer practice as long as the town does not discriminate against minority faiths or non-believers.

A member of the Atheist Society of Rochester, Courtney, an engineer, quoted the Declaration of Independence and called upon common principals that unite all Americans.

Listening to recordings of the oral arguments in the case of Greece v. Galloway, Courtney said he was struck by a rhetorical question from Justice Antonin Scalia.

“He asked ‘What is the equivalent of prayer for someone who is not religious?’ and there was this laughter in the courtroom,” said Courtney. “That revealed this huge blind spot, not just of Justice Scalia, but of many thiests who don’t understand how a nonbeliever can participate. I felt I needed to step forward and show that nonbelievers can participate and can provide invocations.”

Two Greece residents — Susan Galloway, who is Jewish, and Linda Stephens, who is atheist — recently lost their challenge of the town’s pre-meeting prayer practice. They had argued that the mostly Christian prayers preceding each meeting were exclusionary and unconstitutional. However, the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, saying the prayers were in line with national legislative tradition, as long as the town does not discriminate.

14 comments on “Atheist gives ‘historic’ invocation in Greece

  • 4
    dancourtney says:

    The Town of Greece has already turned down one FSM request, as well as that of a Satanist. In addition, they turned the podium around for my invocation which meant all the video footage is from the side or rear – making it so the town seal is not visible. Apparently they like spending time in court.

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  • Isn’t it awesome that we have a built-in roman catholic majority on SCOTUS? Couple this with other recent decisions and I must conclude that the Roberts Court has stepped beyond even the odious Religious Freedom Restoration Act in a crass attempt to redefine religious liberty in a manner that affords religious institutions (which, for this court really just means judaism and christianity) undue privilege.

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  • So you must be the actual Dan in the story then. I gather by your comments that you don’t feel that your invocation was afforded the same respect as a theist would have received. Is that accurate?

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  • 12
    Michael says:

    Their quite obvious attempt to make any invocation, other than christian, to have the feel of lesser importance by actually turning the podium in the oposite direction than it is on any other given night will (and should) end them back in court to anwer to these petty transgressions. I hope you (Dan) “take em to the hoop” over this, and any other discriminatory practices that aren’t exactly eqal to the “christian” invocation practices. Remember, “separate is inherently unequal” and separating would include anything that is delt with differently thanis normally practiced.

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  • The US Supreme Court is an ass. Apparently national legislative tradition overrides the constitution. Do something illegal for long enough, and it’s OK. Of course a Christian prayer discriminates. Bozos.

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  • I sense a big break in mankind coming soon. This is getting absolutely absurdly funny. 200,000 years and countless absurdities that gripped humankind is just simply enough. Religion all thousands of them over the past 20,000 years are junk just made to enslave and retard humanity. It’s time to evolve or suffer the consequences of self inflicted slavery.

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