Atheists Can Be Banned from Delivering Invocation Prayers, Appeals Court Rules
A federal appeals court pointed to precedent and the Founding Fathers in ruling Friday that atheists can be barred from delivering official invocations.
The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, upheld the policy of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, which requires that the person who prays must be “a member of a regularly established church or religious organization.” The policy further says the prayer’s purpose is “to seek divine intervention” in the work and lives of House members.
It was the second such decision this year by an appeals court. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in April ruled the chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives could bar atheists from praying.
The Pennsylvania lawsuit was brought on behalf of a group of secular humanists, Unitarian Universalists and freethinkers who don’t believe in a higher power and wanted the opportunity to pray before the Pennsylvania House. Most, if not all, could be labeled as “atheists.”
The plaintiffs argued the policy of excluding atheists and nontheists violates the Establishment, Free Speech, Free Exercise, and Equal Protection Clauses of the U.S. Constitution. The Third Circuit overturned a lower court decision that had sided with the atheists.
Judge Thomas L. Ambro wrote Friday’s majority opinion, ruling that “only theistic prayer can satisfy all the traditional purposes of legislative prayer.”
“The Supreme Court has long taken as given that prayer presumes invoking
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