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Atheist to open NY meeting; top court OKed prayers

GREECE, N.Y. (AP) — An atheist is set to deliver the invocation in a western New York community whose town board won a U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding its right to open meetings with a prayer. Dan Courtney, 52, a mechanical engineer, said he asked the town of Greece right after the 5-4 decision in May for an opportunity to deliver the "non-theist" message. The court's conservative majority declared the prayers in line with national traditions and said the content is not significant as long as the prayers don't denigrate non-Christians or try to win converts. The town argued persons of any faith were welcome to give the invocation. Courtney said his request was granted without question and Tuesday's 6 p.m. meeting was the first open slot. Town supervisor William Reilich said Monday a variety of views have been represented during invocations, citing the instance of a pagan Wiccan for one. "It's not unusual that we have diversity," he said. "It's whoever comes up from the community." Courtney, a member of Atheist Community of Rochester, said he is an acquaintance of Linda Stephens, also an atheist, who along with Susan Galloway was a plaintiff in the case challenging the town meeting prayer. They said the Christian prayers made them uncomfortable. Every meeting from 1999 through 2007 had been opened with a Christian-oriented invocation. A day after the court decision, Stephens and Galloway, who is Jewish, said they would continue to push the board to be more inclusive and hoped to see atheists among those leading the moment of prayer that follows the Pledge of Allegiance. Courtney said the court's decision was "ill-advised" at a time of divisiveness in the U.S. "I think it's a foolish decision," he said. Courtney and Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry, will speak at a news conference after the invocation Tuesday. The center describes is mission as fostering "a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values." Reilich said there has been no backlash against any speaker and he doesn't expect any on Tuesday. "The only unusual thing here is that this group notified the press," he said. "They're making more of this than there usually is."

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