Court upholds Congress's right to give legislative prayer

Court upholds Congress's right to give legislative prayer
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A federal district court this week upheld the right of Congress to hold a prayer at the start of each legislative day.

Judge Rosemary Collyer of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed a lawsuit Wednesday that atheist activist Daniel Barker had brought against House Chaplain Father Patrick Conroy, his staff and Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees House Republican: 'I worry about both sides' of the aisle on DACA Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids MORE (R-Wis.) in May 2016, challenging their refusal to let him give a nonreligious invocation on the floor. 

Guest chaplains are allowed to give the opening prayer in the House if a member sponsors them, if they are ordained and if their prayer addresses a "higher power."

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Barker, the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation — an advocacy group for nontheists — claimed he had met all the requirements, but the chaplain denied his request because he was “ordained in a denomination in which he no longer practices” and “is not a religious clergyman.”

In a ruling Wednesday, Collyer dismissed Barker’s claims that he had been discriminated against. 

“Despite Mr. Barker’s repeated attempts to characterize his claims as not challenging the constitutionality of legislative prayer, the reality is that his request to open the House with a secular invocation, which resulted in the denial of his request to serve as a guest chaplain, was a challenge to the ability of Congress to open with a prayer,” she wrote.  

“To decide that Mr. Barker was discriminated against and should be permitted to address the House would be to disregard the Supreme Court precedent that permits legislative prayer.”

Collyer said “Congress has exclusive authority over its rules and the manner in which it conducts its affairs" and that the House Chaplain's "refusal to invite an avowed atheist to deliver the morning ‘prayer,’ in the guise of a non-religious public exhortation as a ‘guest chaplain'" was not a violation of the establishment clause of the Constitution, as Barker had claimed.