SCOTUS prayer ruling seen as ‘hollow victory’ by Linda Stephens

Linda Stephens was a plaintiff in the Town of Greece v. Galloway Supreme Court case. She’s an FFRF Life Member and a member of the Atheists Community of Rochester, N.Y. Her op-ed was printed June 7 in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle and is reprinted with her permission. To hear her on Freethought Radio, scroll down to May 30 at She and co-plaintiff Susan Galloway will receive FFRF Freethinker of the Year awards in Los Angeles at the 37th annual convention Oct. 24-26.

By Linda Stephens

All is not lost. There are some positives coming out of the recent Supreme Court decision about governmental prayer. First, the court ruled that governments can no longer exclude potential speakers on the basis of religion, as the Town of Greece did for years. If a government relies on outsiders to deliver a solemnizing message at meetings, it must now allow monotheists, polytheists and nonbelievers to do so as well.

That has prompted a number of atheist and humanist organizations to encourage their members to “crash the party” and volunteer to deliver secular invocations at government meetings. The Freedom from Religion Foundation, the largest atheist and agnostic organization in the country, is offering an annual award for the best secular invocation at a government meeting.

Similarly, the Humanist Society is training people to deliver secular invocations. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which advocates for both theists and nontheists, has just launched “Operation Inclusion,” which aims to help diversify the pool of people delivering prayers/invocations.

Another bright spot: Henceforth, those giving invocations may no longer proselytize or disparage religious minorities or the nonreligious. Having been on the receiving end of some disparaging and hurtful remarks hurled by overzealous Christian pastors at Greece Town Board meetings, I commend the court for laying down the law about this matter.

Some Christian pastors are gloating about the court decision, no doubt relishing the idea of returning to business as usual. One Greece pastor told a Democrat & Chronicle reporter that he was “ecstatic about the ruling.”

In November, the pastor told a USA Today reporter: “Do I want everybody to be a Christian? Of course I do.” And as for the residents who complain about the invocations: They need to “grow some thicker skin,” said the pastor.

Not all Christian pastors, it should be noted, are thrilled about this court decision. David Whitney, a pastor in Pasadena, Md., calls the decision “a hollow victory.” Why?

“What really is at question is the role of Christianity in our society. Does it deserve a special place of honor and encouragement? The Court has said no. In that same opinion, part of the reason the Town of Greece was successful in this case, they allowed people of all persuasions, even a Wiccan, to offer a ‘prayer’ at a public meeting. What is even more amazing is that the Town Council said they would allow an atheist to offer the invocation as well.”

Pastor Whitney goes on to say:

“Does it make a difference if Christianity is simply one among a pantheon of religions in America? That it holds no special place in our land?”

Apparently, the court has said just that.

Freedom From Religion Foundation