"Religious liberty might be supposed to mean that everybody is free to discuss religion. In practice it means that hardly anybody is allowed to mention it." - Autobiography
I suppose it could be argued that the Town of Greece brought it all upon itself.
For those of you not familiar with the Rochester, New York, region, Greece is a large western suburb of the Flower City. My own suburb, the smaller Gates, lies just to the south of Greece.
Greece, Gates and a few other suburbs have for years contributed to the support of a public access channel. That’s one of those channels on which anyone with a video recorder and half a brain (or less) can record and broadcast a show. Lots of high school sports, town meetings, church services, pro-life and pro-choice shows, Air America, old movies, cooking shows, politicians delivering monthly canned messages, and guys (almost always) sitting around pontificating on whatever they wanted to.
Free speech in action.
In December, Greece and Gates decided to not renew their contracts with the channel, effectively killing it. The plan is for the Greece school district to take the channel over and have students operate it as a learning experience. I’m all for learning, but the fear is that with a public school running it, certain shows will no longer be allowed. Religious shows and political shows, for example.
It was the issue of the channel takeover that brought Nancy Braiman to the Greece town Board Meeting. Braiman hales from the Eastside suburb of Brighton (Westside suburbs tend to be working class, Eastside suburbs tend to be mor affluent).
The town board meeting began with a Baptist minister leading a prayer.
Braiman was aghast.
She describes herself as having been raised Jewish, and is now a Universalist – in other words, of no discernable religion any more – and she believes in separation of church and state.
A reasonable person might have tried to talk to town officials about ther prayers, but being an Eastsider of no discernable religion she just went to the ACLU and filed a complaint.
So now Greece has decide whether to drop all prayers, try to get people of more religions to lead prayers, or to fight.
My first thought when I read about the complaint was that God was getting back at Greece for trying to take over the public access channel and possible getting religious shows off the air.
My second thought was, wait a minute, why is this Brighton resident getting the ACLU after Greece? (Dang Eastsider!).
After a moment of prayerful (ahem) thought, I had to concede that Braiman had a point - if Greece does indeed only feature Christian prayers.
It is apparently one of only four towns in our county where they have prayers to begin their meetings. Gates is the only one with a moment of silence.
According to published accounts, Greece officials say that they rotate the prayers among clergy from Greece churches, but that there are no synagogues and mosques in Greece so they can't have representatives of those or other faiths.
Hmm. I bet they could find representatives of the Jewish and Islamic faiths if they tried. Oh, and Hindus, Wiccans, Baha'is, Santerians, Shintoists, Jains. Sikhs, Yankee fans (devil worshippers!), and others.
They could even get an agnostic to lead them in a moment of confusion.
It’s a shame if she completely wins and there is no mention of religion allowed. Her actions might lead, as Chesterton suggests, to a loss of liberty.
Here in Gates, we take kind of a middle position with our moment of silence (referred to as a "silent prayer"). As Gate Supervisor Ralph Esposito notes, no one is forced to take part in it.
This might be a reasonable compromise if Greece does not go for the all-inclusive approach.
Besides, I suspect in some towns - with and without official prayers - the people at the meetings are already doing some heavy duty praying as they listen to their town leaders in action.