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The U.S. House of Representatives and House Chaplain Pat Conroy can reject an atheist’s request to deliver a secular invocation, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.
On Good Friday, a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit protected the legislative chamber’s requirement to begin each day in session with a prayer by upholding a lower court ruling that tossed out a lawsuit brought forth by atheist Dan Barker.
Barker - Co-president - Freedom - From - Religion
Barker, the co-president of the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation and a former minister, claimed in his lawsuit that his First Amendment rights were violated when his application to serve as a guest chaplain in the House was denied in 2015.
Barker was invited by Wisconsin Democrat Rep. Mark Pocan to serve as a guest chaplain and submitted his ordination certificate and a draft of his secular invocation. But Barker’s application was denied on grounds that Barker “was ordained in a denomination in which he no longer practices.”
Conroy - Barker - Requirement - Body - Faith
Conroy reasoned that Barker did not meet the “long-standing requirement” that guest chaplains “be ordained by a recognized body in the faith in which [they] practice.”
Both the House and Senate have long traditions of conducting morning prayers, one that was present in the first Congress under the Constitution. In 1789, Congress appointed a committee to elect chaplains to offer prayers.
Order - Prayers - Chaplains - Member - House
In order to give prayers, guest chaplains must be sponsored by a member of the House, be ordained and address a “higher power” during their invocation.
“Even though we accept as true Barker’s allegation that Conroy rejected him ‘because he is an atheist,’ the House’s requirement that prayers must be religious nonetheless precludes Barker from doing the very thing he asks us to order Conroy to allow him to do: deliver a secular prayer,” the court’s decision written by Senior Circuit Judge David S. Tatel...
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