Appeals Court Rules Pennsylvania House of Representatives Can Ban Atheist Invocations

An appeals court upheld the Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ invocation policy that allows guest chaplains to give prayers and bars atheists from participating.

A three judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled last Friday that the invocation policy was constitutional, overturning a lower court decision.

Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro authored the majority opinion, writing they upheld the ban on non-theistic invocations because “only theistic prayer can satisfy the historical purpose of appealing for divine guidance in lawmaking.”

“Because the House’s policy preferring theistic over nontheistic prayers fits squarely within the historical tradition of legislative prayer, we part with the District Court on this point and uphold the prayer policy,” wrote Judge Ambro.

“First, only theistic prayer can satisfy all the traditional purposes of legislative prayer. Second, the Supreme Court has long taken as given that prayer presumes invoking a higher power.”

While the majority agreed with the lower court that the atheists’ free speech rights were violated by the ban, the appeals court concluded that the invocations were “government speech” and thus were not regulated by the Free Speech Clause of the Constitution.

“We follow suit and join the Seventh and Fourth Circuits, as well as at least three Supreme Court Justices, in holding that legislative prayer is government speech,” continued Ambro.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Michael Gryboski