Courthouse News reports:
Congress has the right to hold a prayer at the start of each legislative day, and can reject an atheist’s request to give the invocation without violating the Establishment Clause, a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer, a George W. Bush appointee, said Wednesday the House chaplain’s refusal to invite an avowed atheist to deliver the morning prayer, “in the guise of a non-religious public exhortation,” also adheres to the Equal Protection Clause.
As recounted in the ruling, Dan Barker, co-president of the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, sued House Chaplain Patrick Conroy and Speaker Paul Ryan in May 2016, after he was prevented from delivering an atheist invocation before Congress.
The case goes back to 2015 when openly gay Rep. Mark Pocan invited Barker to give the invocation, only to be told that only “credentialed” ministers may do so. Barker provided proof of his 1975 ordination but last year Conroy countered that because Barker has since declared his atheism, that rule was somehow moot. Then came the lawsuit.
House Speaker Paul Ryan reacts:
“Since the first session of the Continental Congress, our nation’s legislature has opened with a prayer to God. Today, that tradition was upheld and the freedom to exercise religion was vindicated. The court rightfully dismissed the claims of an atheist that he had the right to deliver a secular invocation in place of the opening prayer. I am grateful that the People’s House can continue to begin its work each day as we have for centuries: taking a moment to pray to God.”
The Liberty Counsel celebrates:
“Daniel Barker and the Freedom From Religion Foundation attempted and failed another bullying tactic to try and erase what America is founded upon: prayer to Almighty God. Our nation’s legislature has opened with prayer since the very first session as a reflection of the faith of many people across America who also seek the Lord’s guidance in their lives.”