Thursday, December 03, 2015
My Trip to the Town of Greece
In the book I'm writing now (and by "writing" I mean I've signed a contract for something I should be writing but actually haven't written a word of) for Stanford University Press, I'm looking at how non-Christians--Wiccans, Hindus, Atheists/Humanists, Satanists, the Summum, etc.--are increasingly trying to participate in public life by, for instance, giving legislative prayers and invocations, putting up displays on government property, and using public voucher funds for their schools, etc. I'm calling the book, tentatively, "Our Non-Christian Nation: How Atheists, Wiccans, Satanists, and Other Non-Christians are Demanding Their Rightful Place in American Public Life."
Like in two of my other books about religion, this too will be a book where I travel places to observe actual events and to talk to people involved in the controversies I'm writing about. My first trip was to the Town of Greece back in October. You may remember that a couple of years ago, plaintiffs successfully challenged in the Second Circuit the town's policy of beginning each of its town hall meetings with a prayer because almost all of the prayers were given by a Christian, and they were usually extremely sectarian in nature (meaning they expressly invoked Jesus and the like). The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, reversed the Second Circuit and held that sectarian prayers were okay so long as towns like Greece don't prohibit other groups from also giving invocations and/or prayers.
One of the plaintiffs in that case was Linda Stephens, a wonderful lady who has lived in Greece for many years and who happens to be an atheist. Following the Supreme Court's decision, she asked the town council if she could give a secular invocation, and the council agreed. Somehow I came across the schedule for the town's prayers/invocations online, and when I saw that Linda was giving the invocation, I decided to take a plane to Rochester and check it out myself.I met with Linda at her home and talked with her for a long time about the case, and then later in the day headed over to the town hall. The town Councilor, whom I also met with, is apparently a huge pickle ball fan, which is a game I had never heard of before, sort of like tennis but not tennis, and there are a set of pickle ball courts next to the town hall. This is not relevant. I was interested in seeing if there would be any controversy at the meeting, given that Linda was one of the people who brought the suit that had brought so much attention to this small town. Linda's was actually the second secular invocation given in Greece since the case came down, and at the first one, the only sign of dissent was a single man holding up a sign that said something like "Jesus Saves." I thought, however, that this event might be different since it was Linda doing the invocation.
In fact, there was no controversy whatsoever. Not even that one guy seemed to be there, and if he was there, he was not holding a sign. Linda gave the invocation. It was very nice (I thought). Everyone was very respectful. Nobody seemed to sigh. Nobody left or groaned audibly. The guy sitting next to me had removed his baseball hat when the Councilor announced that it was time for the "prayer," but when the baseball hat guy realized that Linda was not really giving a prayer, he put his hat back on. It was a Red Sox hat, incidentally.
There's more, but for that you'll have to wait for the book.
Also, here is a picture of me and my hedgehog.
The oral argument in Town of Greece v. Galloway was tad depressing for various reasons including the apparent sentiment by various justices (and the actual lawyer for the respondents!) that atheists simply could not sensibly be thought as possibly being part of a non-sectarian invocation ceremony. There are ways. Some might and do want to just do away with the whole thing. But, there are ways to have it as diverse as possible. The dissent in the opinion in effect said as much.
Posted by: Joe | Dec 3, 2015 9:51:42 AM