The House of Representatives chaplain can bar an atheist from giving a prayer because prayers are inherently supposed to be religious, not "secular," a court ruled on Good Friday, according to Roll Call.
The case was brought by Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, against Father Patrick J. Conroy, the House chaplain who rejected a request from Barker to deliver a prayer to the House.
"To resolve this case, however, we need not decide whether there is a constitutional difference between excluding a would-be prayer-giver from the guest chaplain program because he is an atheist and excluding him because he has expressed a desire to deliver a nonreligious prayer,' even though we accept as true Barker's allegation that Conroy rejected him 'because he is an atheist,'" U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Judge David S. Tatel wrote, according to the report.
"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."
Fr. Conroy originally argued Barker was "not a recognized or ordained religious figure," according to the report, but changed his argument to the content of the prayer and not the person who was to deliver it.
"During the course of this litigation, Conroy has taken a different position: that Barker could not serve as guest chaplain because he sought to give a secular prayer," Judge Tatel wrote, per the report. "More important, the House of Representatives itself, through House counsel, has now ratified that position – both in briefing and at oral argument, House counsel represented to this court that the House interprets its rules to require 'a religious invocation.'"
Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., invited Barker to serve as guest chaplain in 2015, which Fr. Conroy rejected and led to Barker's 2016 lawsuit.
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