Judge Rules Atheists Must be Allowed to Give Secular Prayers at Pennsylvania Legislative Meetings

The rotunda of the Pennsylvania capitol building in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
(PHOTO: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

A U.S. District Court judge has ruled against the Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ policy of c giving invocations before meetings, claiming that it discriminates on the basis of religion.

For years, Pennsylvania’s lower legislative house has had an invocation policy in place that allows for guest chaplains who are ordained clergy or members of the legislative body to give opening prayers before meetings.

In a decision released Wednesday, Judge Christopher C. Conner of the Middle District of Pennsylvania ruled that this policy discriminated against atheists who wanted to give a secular invocation.

“The Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ current guest chaplain policy facially violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” concluded Conner.

“The House’s selection process invites members of the public to serve as guest chaplains but draws a qualifying line of demarcation between theistic and nontheistic belief systems.”

Conner argued that the Pennsylvania House’s pre-2017 opening invocation practice of having visitors stand during the prayer and “thereby participate in a religious exercise,” also violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

“Requiring visitors to stand and having Sergeants at Arms repeatedly and loudly direct consciously seated visitors to comply with the Speaker’s request to stand amounts to an unconstitutional level of coercion,” wrote Conner, who noted that the current practice of voluntary standing was acceptable.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Michael Gryboski