Atheist Group Loses Bid To Give US House Invocation

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.”

  • TexasBoy

    OK, so how about someone whose deity is His Supreme Noodliness, the Flying Spaghetti Monster? In the name of the Pasta, the Sauce and the Parmesan Cheese, Amen.

  • It’s the hypocrisy.

    Also, Christian privilege.

    • John30013

      Calling the Satanic Temple. Let’s see the court deny *them*.

      • ultragreen

        The court probably would deny the right of a Satanist to conduct the prayer invocation in Congress. Having a devil worshiper pray before Congress would definitely cause a big fuss.

        • Girlgoon

          That’s bad PR. We don’t really worship the devil he is just a fabled symbolic figure.

          You can’t learn about satanism by watching bad horror movies.

          • Judas Peckerwood

            “We don’t really worship the devil he is just a fabled symbolic figure.”

            Yes, unlike all of he other gods embraced by state religions, which are totally real. REALLY!!!

        • John30013

          Such a ruling would be an obvious instance of viewpoint discrimination, in clear violation of the 1st Amendment.

      • witch

        Or a Wicca high Priestess and

      • DN

        Look how well it worked out when a hindu tried it…

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  • Pollos Hermanos

    Calling The Church of Satan.

    You’re free to request an opening prayer.

    • Karl Dubhe

      Hey! 🙂

  • DreadPikathulhu
  • Karl Dubhe

    Then when does a ‘credentialed’ minister of the Church of Satan get to lead their invocation?

    The Lightbringing Dark One is the one they truly serve.

  • Blake J Butler
    • And growing daily as people in dire need of electricity, medicine, food and water are dying to lack of such.

      Mainly because Donald doesn’t give a shit about brown people who didn’t vote for him.

      • Bluto

        CAN’T vote for him, but probably few would anyways so you point stands.

      • TexasBoy

        Pfffft, they have no electoral votes. Why would Trump waste the time?

      • Blake J Butler

        Well, couldn’t if they wanted to, and wouldn’t if they could because most o them, they’re smarter than that.

  • shellback

    Nothing inspires more confidence in our government than the daily ritual of talking to the invisible man.

    • JT

      Especially with the brazen hypocrisy of shitheads like Drumpf leading the way.

  • another_steve

    Neither the selling of theism nor the selling of atheism belongs in the public square.

    Both, in the privacy of your own homes, please.

    • The_Wretched

      That was entirely Barker’s point.

      • another_steve

        I guess I don’t know what an “atheist invocation” is.

        Sounds like the selling of atheism to me.

        • The_Wretched

          Right, and the endless christian invocations are selling their religion. The atheist legal strategy is to ask for that to stop, and when it doesn’t, as for a turn at the podium. It’s a pretty effective plan as most of the posturing xtians really hate invocations that don’t say ‘xtian god’. That discomfort is often to the level that the xtians stop all invocations – which is the goal of the atheists anyway.

          • another_steve

            I want all of this to exit the public stage. I want theists and atheists alike to remain silent re their convictions.

            Believe or not believe as you choose – but in the privacy of your own home and not on my dime.

  • bambinoitaliano
  • The_Wretched

    The court got it wrong. Excluding a ‘faith’ from the where other ‘faiths’ get to use governmental podiums is a violation of the 1st amendment.

    • Karl Dubhe

      As an atheist, I’m not sure I’ll agree that not believing is a faith. 🙂

      • OCW

        It is not a faith nor belief. We simply haven’t accepted the god claim.

      • coram nobis

        I think he meant the Establishment clause, which was supposed to give us freedom from religion, official ones at least. Not free exercise of religion, which atheism may not want to be.

        • Karl Dubhe

          I know, I’m quibbling.

          And showing off the new avatar. 🙂

          • yes b’y

   Nice avatar RIP Gord Downie

          • Lars Littlefield

            Why is it the same shape as the Union Pacific logo or a US highway marker?

          • Karl Dubhe

            I stole it, I didn’t make it. 🙂

            In other words, I have no idea.

          • Lars Littlefield

            That, in my opinion, is the best answer. 🙂

      • m_lp_ql_m

        You’ll agree, though, that an atheist ought to be able to give an invocation?

        • OCW

          Absolutely. And it would not even have to be related to atheism at all. There is the Secular Humanist Chaplain at Harvard for instance, whose messages are about what REAL HUMANS can do to improve the world.

          • Eddie Besketti

            ah – but there you go OCW – republican aren’t looking to make improvements in the world much less in their own backyard.

        • Karl Dubhe

          Fuck yah. Or a Satanist, or anyone else who professes to be able to speak to a ‘higher’ purpose. It’s all make believe/theatre of the absurd to me.

          Puff, puff; pass. 🙂

      • Natty Enquirer

        The courts have ruled that nonbelief must be treated on an equal footing with belief. As we see in this case, if government is free to choose belief over nonbelief, the separation provision is a sham.

      • The_Wretched

        Hence the quote marks. For ease of legal analysis, sub in ‘faith’ for atheism. No religion counts as a religion for legal purposes.

        I’m a bit of an activist on atheism and am also an a-religionist.

      • zhera

        Seeing as atheism is based on facts and science, it’s definitely not a faith. 🙂

        • Karl Dubhe

          Not always, some atheists can be kooky too. 🙂

      • (((GC)))

        But if we don’t discriminate based on hairstyle, people who are bald should get equal respect.

    • RepublicansRNotConservative

      I’m a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a worthy cause IMO. No “God” of consequence would ever be a member of a religion of humans.

  • HZ81

    Score one for cult leaders everywhere!!

  • Natty Enquirer

    Ah yes, the old Appeal to Tradition. It’s right because we’ve always done it that way.

  • Nowhereman

    Our county wasn’t founded on prayer to any almighty god. So nice that the congress can just make up its own rules. And as for bullies, it’s the christian theocrats who are the bullies in this country.

  • Sam_Handwich

    The House makes its own rules. I’m surprised the court even heard this case. I mean, by virtue of what did the atheist have standing?

    • Natty Enquirer

      So does every town council. They’re not above the Constitution. Why is the House?

      • KT

        If the House can make it’s own rules and ban atheists from saying an invocation, why can’t state universities make their own rules and ban Nazis from speaking on campus?

  • OCW

    Another ceremony that should itself be retired. Atheists are so reviled in this country it is absurd. We are thought to be immoral, dishonest, angry (well, some are and rightfully so), in league with the devil, and so on. The only thing that all atheists have in common is that they do not hold a belief in a god or gods. It is not even necessary for an atheist to claim there is no god, though some do. Atheism is the default position, the natural state of humans at birth.

  • coram nobis

    And in a related story, we read about Numa Pompilius of Rome, the uses of religion in governance, and Donald Trump.

    To get his subjects to go along, Numa told them he was receiving instructions from a divine nymph named Egeria, whom he would meet for advice (and marital commerce) in one or another rustic place. The line worked.

  • Girlgoon

    The double standards and hypocrisy of the right wing religious just burns my blood !!!

    Everyday they are driving me towards satanism with their twisting of truth and history to fit their ancient narratives.

    Genuine Satanists have higher morals and don’t lie or mislead like the church

    • justme

      wasn’t that BC….before the Christian era??

      • Lars Littlefield

        BCE (before common era)

      • Girlgoon

        I could care less what the belief system was 2000 years ago. Modern satanists are logical, pragmatic and all inclusive. In favor of the greater good of all human and other life. Its a religion not saddled by anchient dogma while having been co-opted by some for their own selfish purposes its gotten a very bad rap.

        • justme

          Fake Christians aren’t saddled either…

  • Sam_Handwich
    • The_Wretched

      He’s not an atheist either. The expect label is buddhist. They were trying for a secular, non-religious invocation.

    • another_steve

      I respect him a great deal, but in my perfect America there is no interjection of religion or anti-religion in the public square.

      The Dalai Lama represents a religious-spiritual path. He did not belong there, in the People’s House.

  • Lazycrockett
    • Mike_in_the_Tundra

      Anyone know how old he is?

      Nevermind, I used the google machine. He’s 79 and has a fairly new wife.

  • Lazycrockett
  • narutomania

    How in the fuck can this law (or is it merely a ‘rule’?) be interpreted as not prioritizing religion over non-religion while simultaneously requiring that a person who seeks to deliver the convocation be ‘ordained’ in some religion?

    And the person making the determination of whether the proposed deliverer of the convocation is qualified or not is a CHRISTIANiST.

    How in the FUCKITY FUCK does a person get ordained in NOT having a religious belief?

    I guess s/he would have to get a degree in SCIENCE, eh?

    • Natty Enquirer
    • The_Wretched

      Hence the satanists and FSM followers will be up next.

    • Snarkaholic

      My suggestion to the atheists would be this: Claim that, because the universe was created by a big bang, and we were then created, you consider the universe to be God.
      If your religious belief is sincerely held, then you should be recognized as a religion.

  • Uncle Mark

    FUCK….If the hypocrites demand a god, then lets drag in the god they really worship. How about dragging in a Golden Calf. Just get ready to hose off half the Republicans

  • bambinoitaliano

    O/T Not familiar with this beer company.

    • zhera

      I like it! Brilliant strategy against the nazis and brilliant way to promote the brand.

      • Christopher

        And let’s not forget the most important part…

        FREE BEER!

  • JT

    Let’s get the church of the FSM request going.

  • coram nobis

    The ruling seemed to rely on atheism not being a religion as such. Okay, Congress, let’s hear invocations from a chief priest of the First Church of Satan — and a chef-priest from the Flying Spaghetti Monster Church and Trattoria.

  • Stogiebear

    If this opening prayer is so near and dear to the hearts of the members of Congress why are they not delivering the prayers themselves. It ought to be pretty easy to come up with a rotation.

  • Lantor

    I wonder what Ryan’s real god, Ayn Rand, would have to say to this.

    • m_lp_ql_m

      “Ayn Rand Paul Ryan”?

  • coram nobis

    These song lyrics seem to fit Congress, don’t they?

    • LeeCMH

      From a great movie.

      All I can say after viewing the clip is here it is.

      • coram nobis

        “Do you wanna live life in the rottenest way?
        Here it is!
        Women and whiskey night and day,
        Here it is!
        Do you wanna worship the golden calf,
        Ankle and thigh and upper half?
        Here it is, I mean here it is.”

        Yes, that’s Congress.

  • justme

    “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.

    So even back then there were fake Christians!!! claiming the right…

    • LeeCMH

      The core of Christianity is fake — all ancient stories collected and translated over millennia.

  • coram nobis

    Mr. Speaker, today’s invocation will be delivered by the Rev. Polly Threesome.

    • LeeCMH

      Surely the speaker isn’t Dennis “Wanna Wrestle?” Hastert.

      • coram nobis

        No, it’s Polly Threeism. And don’t call me Shirley.

        • LeeCMH

          Blanche, I was referring to “Mr. Speaker”

          • coram nobis

            You mean the Squeaker of the House, Paul Bearer?

  • Tom Furgas

    Mr. Ryan doesn’t seem to understand that the freedom to exercise religion is also the freedom not to. Or, more likely, he does, but wants the incense and piety in the chamber to mask the heartless corruption and worship of money.

    • m_lp_ql_m

      I have a wild, conspiracy-ish theory that all the hard-line Repubs are actually capital-A Atheists, and know EXACTLY what they’re doing.

  • Ernest Endevor

    No atheist may be allowed to interfere with our godly work of de-funding health insurance for children!

  • Sam_Handwich
    • zhera

      So… the bigots have given up? Or will it all come back for the next election?
      I wonder how much money the state has lost during all this.

      • Swarley

        We’ve lost billions. NC is entirely controlled by Repubs, courtesy of gerrymandering. We’re hoping like hell the courts will change that soon.

    • CottonBlimp

      The four genders: dress, pants, half a dress, and handicapped

      • Tread

        I could the third one “the mid twirl.”

        • Chris Baker

          I always thought of that as “bald woman standing in a strong wind”. But now it will be “mid twirl” for me.

  • whollyfool

    because “religious freedom”
    except for atheists

  • Steverino

    Ah, yes- the GOP-controlled House: long on prayers, short on thoughts.

  • Ken M

    Where’s a registered Satanist when you need one? Meet Peter H Gilmore, from across the isle. Televangelist for The Church of Satan 50th Anniversary of his church.

  • WitlessProtection

    Liberty Council knows all about losing…

  • OldBaldGuy

    Fuck them and the god they rode in on.

  • Ken M
  • BlindBill

    so, we need an ordained agnostic. Believes in god, as much as anyone in office, but does not believe in organized religion.

    • EdA

      Following the Civil War, there was an ordained Unitarian, Henry Noble Couden, who served as House Chaplain for a quarter-century.

  • ultragreen

    What about a prayer invocation by a Muslim or a Satanist? Would the Congressional chaplain allow that? If not, then this prayer ritual definitely involves the establishment of religion, no matter what the Federal courts have proclaimed.

    • Helen Damnation™

      If I recall I believe they have had Muslim prayers in the past. Past being the key word, maybe?

  • Phillip in L.A.

    Meh. The Supremes carved out an exclusion for Congress’s opening prayers, without explaining that decision, including why and how it comported with the First Amendment (other than saying, “Tradition!”) so this is not surprising.

    • Natty Enquirer

      Another decision for the SCOTUS Wall of Shame.

      • Phillip in L.A.

        Yes, it certainly is! Town of Greece v. Galloway (2014) 572 U.S. ___, overruling, in part, Marsh v. Chambers (1983) 463 U.S. 783.

        [Edit: All five Justices in the ‘majority’ were Catholics: Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito; however, there is only a ‘plurality’ opinion, in which Kennedy, Roberts, and Alito joined. Scalia and Thomas concurred in the judgment, but issued separate concurring opinions.]

  • CottonBlimp

    the freedom to exercise religion was vindicated.

    Yeah, I remember where the First Amendment states Congress has the right to force Christianity down everyone’s throats.

  • LovesIrony
  • TimCA

    It’s not really discrimination based on religious beliefs when you’re being discriminated against on the basis of your atheist religious beliefs.

  • Johnny Wyeknot

    Quaint. Rhymes with taint.

  • EdA

    I encourage people to visit Freedom from Religion Foundation,
    The Freethought Radio podcast can be found at

    • LeeCMH

      I agree.

      The FFRF has been our advocate for decades.

  • LeeCMH

    This clip shows a serious religious argument:

  • Helen Damnation™

    I long for the day when Christaint’s are no longer a part of our government.

  • Gary

    So, did the judge pray about this decision? Did her god bring forth the ruling in answer to her prayer?

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    Because if we don’t say the magic words sky daddy won’t shower us with “blessings. ” Huge fucking eyeroll

  • EdA

    Sadly no surprise, and on behalf of the Christianist Fundamentalists the White Supremacists in Chief and his favorite elf have effectively revoked the de facto executive order on religious freedom proclaimed by the Father of Our Country in 1790:

    All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

    (From his famous proclamation to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island. Yes, I know that Benedict Trump thinks that George Washington should be remembered at least as much for being a slaveowner, but unlike Putin’s Plaything Washington did have bona fide aspirations to Making America Great.)

  • LeeCMH

    As for the reliability of the ancient stories collected into an anthology called the Bible.

    Well this clip depicts a very real possibility:

  • JCF

    “freedom to exercise religion was vindicated”

    Bullshit. Atheism is a belief-system (aka “religion”), no more or less than any other. They’re perfectly justified in giving a brief exortation (aka “invocation”) to Congress based upon it.


    • Jean-Marc in Canada

      Actually, with respect, you’re in error. Atheism is not a belief system since there is no concept of belief involved. Atheists do not ‘believe god doesn’t exist”, we simply state that there is no evidence and thus cannot acknowledge his existence. We don’t demand or require someone “believe” anything, we require those who believe to show us the evidence. There is a clear distinction and it’s not correct to assign belief where none exists.

      • JCF

        With mutual respect, all ^ of this is your belief (including that I am in error). Which is fine. First Amendment equality, you do you, I’ll do me. Pax et bonum, Jean-Marc.

    • sandollar_man

      You’re partly correct. Bill Maher said it best — “Atheism is a religion, in the same way that abstinence is a sex position”.
      In the Christian religion of my youth, forgiveness was a key principle. Being able to ask for forgiveness, and being able to give forgiveness. Supposedly cuz we’re all sinners.
      Now just TRY to imagine, the leader of that despicable party in power, showing any of that core principle.

      • JCF

        “Atheism is a religion, in the same way that abstinence is a sex position”.

        Clever. But actually, abstinence IS a position re sex.

        I get the human desire for certitude: “my thoughts/beliefs are certainly correct, by the criteria I have established to determine correctness.”

        I believe I have many incorrect beliefs. Maybe believing that “atheism is another (perfectly valid) belief-system” is in error. All I can tell you, is that the innumerable times I have heard “atheism isn’t a belief-system” hasn’t persuaded me (yet). Everyone who’s ever said this to me, has come from their own unique subjective experience, in how they’ve derived this claim (see re, below, “require those who believe to show us the evidence”: that requirement IS itself a belief—again, a perfectly valid one, to the person believing it). My subjective experience—which has shaped my rational criteria for determining truth—has come to differing conclusions (at this moment—my beliefs continue to evolve every moment—including typing out my response to you, s_m! 😉 ).

        It’s entirely possible, that my subjective reasoning MAY someday lead me to the belief-system that the same scientific method for, proverbially, “building a better mousetrap” (Hypothesis/Empirical Evidence/Final Conclusion: No God) is the one for me. But that doesn’t seem rational to me at this time. “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy” and all that.

        “Of Course I Could Be Wrong”

  • Oscarlating Wildely

    Haven’t we killed their god yet?

  • Friday’s_cat

    Could a Pastafarian give an invocation in the name of the great Flying Spaghetti Monster?

  • Jean-Marc in Canada

    “Today, that tradition was upheld and the freedom to exercise religion was vindicated.” Actually no Mr. Ryan, it was not vindicated, the 1st amendment was spat upon by a court and a congress that seem determined to undermine the very concept of what the founding fathers had intended. How is that I, a foreigner, can see so clearly what cannot?

  • Mike

    Any judge who thinks this is a “christian nation” founded on magic and superstition has no business being a judge. She needs to go back to school. Let her start by reading our godless Constitution. She’ll find that despite what Paul Ryan thinks, people who don’t believe in god are exactly equal under the law to believers.

  • Pizza009

    Rights for me but not for thee!

  • DN

    “Since the first session of the Continental Congress, our nation’s legislature has opened with a prayer to God.”


    Come arrest me, asshole.

  • SFHarry

    This is just insanity. Most of these believers think all other’s gods are fake yet still are okay with them speaking.

  • GanymedeRenard

    1) Congress may have the ‘right’ to hold a prayer at the beginning of each legislative day, but it is by no means a DUTY.

    2) Traditions evolve. Ask historians about the ancient tradition of enslaving people for example.

    3) Choosing a religious prayer preferentially over a secular exhortation is plain discrimination. This should be a no brainer for a non biased judge.

  • leastyebejudged

    They’ve long declared war on atheists, and it’s not going to be over until some heads roll.

  • This will be appealed – and the bad guys ought to lose (but who knows . . . )