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The House chaplain scored a legal victory on Good Friday, when a federal appeals court ruled he could not be ordered to allow a self-described atheist to offer a secular prayer to the House of Representatives.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit sided with Rev. Patrick J. Conroy, in his official capacity as the House chaplain, and the chamber itself in litigation brought by Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and a former minister. Barker alleged Conroy improperly rejected a request to have him serve as guest chaplain.
Decision - Friday - Panel - Court - Decision
In the decision released Friday, a three-judge panel affirmed a lower court’s decision to dismiss Barker’s claim that his rights were violated under the Establishment Clause, though the judges offered a different take on the case from the district court.
Writing for the court, Judge David S. Tatel explained that the legal question was not whether Barker was blocked from offering a prayer because he was an atheist, but rather about the content of that prayer.
Case - Difference - Prayer-giver - Chaplain - Program
“To resolve this case, however, we need not decide whether there is a constitutional difference between excluding a would-be prayer-giver from the guest chaplain program because he is an atheist and excluding him because he has expressed a desire to deliver a nonreligious prayer. Even though we accept as true Barker’s allegation that Conroy rejected him ‘because he is an atheist,’” Tatel wrote, “The House’s requirement that prayers must be religious nonetheless precludes Barker from doing the very thing he asks us to order...
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