Last week, members of Metroplex Atheists Rowlett and an attorney from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation sent formal requests to the Rowlett City Council to be allowed to give an invocation at an upcoming council meetings. All of Rowlett’s council meetings begin with an invocation, or prayer.
Last year, members of the organization protested a city council meeting regarding the city’s invocation policy, which they considered exclusionary to non-Christians and violating the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, which states that “Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion.”
“It sets the atmosphere for an in-group, out-group kind of conflict,” said Randy Word, Metroplex Atheists president.
Rowlett has a policy regarding the invocation that allows for any organized religion with an established place of worship in the city to give the invocation at the meeting. However, all of the places of worship in the city are Christian denominations. Metroplex Atheists Rowlett has been meeting in the city for about 18 months and have a registered P.O. box in the city, which they claim legitimizes them as an organization that should be allowed to give the invocation.
City officials have been openly in favor of the Christian invocation, stating it is representative of the population. According to a demographic survey, the majority of residents adhere to some form of Christianity.
In the Town of Greece v. Galloway case, the Supreme Court recently ruled that prayer before government meetings has been a long-established part of American tradition. The ruling in the case was in favor of the religious invocations, but stated that they cannot be coercive or demeaning to other religions and attendees cannot be made to participate. Part of the court’s ruling in favor of the prayer was due to the fact that the town of Greece, NY, allowed almost all prayer-givers, including a Jewish layperson and a Wiccan priestess.
“As a practice that has long endured, legislative prayer has become part of our heritage and tradition, part of our expressive idiom, similar to the Pledge of Allegiance,” stated Justice Anthony M. Kennedy in his majority opinion on the Town of Greece v. Galloway case.
The city council held discussion during its executive session at work session on Tuesday regarding the invocation policy. No decision has been made concerning whether the city will allow the group to give a secular invocation.
“We’re not going to make a spoof of it,” Word said. “It would be a serious invocation with the intent of solemnizing the occasion ... but we would invoke the higher qualities of human nature, reason and sense of justice. It would be almost identical to a religious invocation.”
Metroplex Atheists have stated that if the city declines to give them a place on the invocation list it will likely follow up with a protest of an upcoming council meeting and possible legal action through the Freedom From Religion Foundation.