Atheist to lead invocation in New York state town of Greece

(Photo: REUTERS / Shannon Stapleton)A billboard written in Hebrew and English sponsored by the American Atheists is seen next to the Kosciuszko Bridge in the Brooklyn borough of New York March 7, 2012. The billboard is meant to serve as an advertisement for the upcoming "Reason Rally" in Washington, D.C., which is being billed as the largest atheist gathering in U.S. history followed by the Atheist convention.

The New York town that was allowed by U.S. Supreme Court to open public meetings with prayer will have an atheist deliver the invocation for the first time.

On Tuesday, Dan Courtney will do an invocation, which some have considered to be a call for help from a deity, before the Town Board of Greece, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle newspaper reports.

A member of the Atheist Society of Rochester, Courtney, a mechanical engineer, revealed that he plans to quote from the Declaration of Independence for his invocation.

Courtney was among the first people to make a request for an invocation schedule after the Supreme Court decision came down on May 5.

The court's ruling emphasized that Greece can continue holding prayers before meetings as long as it does not denigrate non-Christians or try to win converts.

The town gave an assurance that people of any faith are welcome to give an invocation.

Greece town supervisor William Reilich told The Associated Press that a variety of views have been represented during invocations, citing one instance of a pagan Wiccan.

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

Dan Courtney was initially one of those who challenged the invocation before the town meeting. His group said that the Christian prayers made them uncomfortable. Every meeting from 1999 through 2007 had been opened with a Christian-oriented invocation.

The American Humanist Association launched the secular invocation as a result of the Town of Greece ruling.

As defined, a secular invocation is a short speech that solemnizes a meeting or event by appealing to the audience's shared human values instead of a deity.

Since the program launch, the Humanist Society's list of secular invocation speakers has more than doubled to include over 150 speakers.

"The incredible success of our secular invocation program demonstrates the dedication of the humanist community to making our voices heard," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association.

"We are pleased that the Board of the Town of Greece and other local governments have included invocations from humanists and other non-religious Americans."

The Humanist Society is looking to increase its number of secular invocation speakers so that humanists, atheists, and other non-theists across the nation can be represented at their local legislatures.

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