An atheist group tried to stop the House of Representatives from opening sessions with a religious prayer, but a court rejected the demand.
On Friday, a federal appeals court in the District of Columbia upheld the House of Representatives’ rule of opening sessions with a prayer with a unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel.
According to the Washington Examiner, the lawsuit was filed by Daniel Barker, co-president of the Christian-hating Freedom From Religion Foundation.
The Examiner added:
Rev. Patrick Conroy, the House chaplain, rejected Barker’s application in 2015 to serve as a guest chaplain because he was “ordained in a denomination in which he no longer practices.” But over the course of litigation challenging that denial, Conroy said Barker could not serve as a guest chaplain because he wanted to deliver a secular prayer. The House also specified that its rules require a religious invocation to be delivered.
“[T]he House does not violate the Establishment Clause by limiting its opening prayer to religious prayer,” the court said.
The D.C. Circuit court upheld a lower court ruling that dismissed Barker’s claims that his First Amendment rights had been violated.
The court ruling continued:
“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 said. “In other words, even if, as Barker alleges, he was actually excluded simply for being an atheist, he is entitled to none of the relief he seeks. We could not order Conroy to allow Barker to deliver a secular invocation because the House permissibly limits the opening prayer to religious prayer.”
Barker first brought the case in 2015 after seeking to become a gust chaplain at the House.
Illinois Democrat Mark Pocan sponsored Barker’s application.
The House legal argument specified that those who wish to deliver a secular invocation rather than a prayer cannot do so under the chamber’s rules that require a religious prayer.
The court agreed…
“The question then, is this: does the House’s decision to limit the opening prayer fit ‘within the tradition long followed in Congress and the state legislatures?’ The answer is yes,” the court said, citing the Supreme Court’s ruling in a 2014 case upholding the practice of opening legislative sessions with a prayer.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.