Federal Courts: U.S. House Chaplain Can Legally Ban Atheist Invocations

Screengrab / C-Span / Youtube

Though the Supreme Court mandates city councils hear invocations from backgrounds including atheism, Congress does not.

Despite fulfilling all of the traditional criteria to deliver an invocation, a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals determined that atheist Dan Barker will not be permitted to deliver one in the House of Representatives by upholding a ruling that dismissed his complaint about discrimination. As a result, the Court has found that the U.S. House can set rules requiring that invocations be inherently religious, Friendly Atheist reports.

Barker's quest to deliver an invocation originated from the Supreme Court's 2014 case Greece v. Galloway, in which the justices determined that invocations at city councils, if they're adopted, are required to be open to people of all religions and those with no religion as well. But Barker wanted to know if the same rule applied to Congress, so he took all of the necessary steps to give an invocation in the House.

So he asked Democrat and Wisconsin Representative Mark Pocan to sponsor him, which he did. And Barker, a former Christian minister, submitted all of the necessary ordination paperwork, which he still uses for weddings, and even submitted a copy of the speech he had planned. Hardly an attempt to push an atheist agenda, upon learning that he must invoke a "higher power," he wrote in his proposal that there is none higher than “We, the People of these United States.”

But still, in 2016, U.S. House Chaplain Patrick Conroy rejected Barker's request in January 2016 after delaying the decision for months. Because Parker had “announced his atheism publicly," he was not a real "minister of the gospel."

The decision caused Barker, also the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, to file a religious discrimination lawsuit. But the D.C. Circuit Court determined on Friday that the decision to exclude non-religious prayers was acceptable.

96.7 percent of invocations have been delivered by Christians over the past 15 years, and not a single Agnostic or atheist has given one in that time period.

Read the full story here.