The U.S. House of Representatives does not have to allow an atheist to deliver a secular invocation, a federal appeals court has ruled.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit April 19 upheld rules promulgated by the House that effectively bar Dan Barker, a former Christian minister turned atheist, from delivering an invocation.
Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, wanted to give a secular invocation before the House. Although the House has a chaplain paid by taxpayer funds, it often allows guest religious leaders (usually Christians, although non-Christians are invited on occasion) to deliver opening prayers.
Barker argued that House members could benefit from hearing a secular invocation as well, and was invited to deliver one by U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.).
But the House chaplain, the Rev. Patrick J. Conroy, was determined to stop Barker. Conroy made a number of arguments for why Barker should be excluded, at first asserting that Barker is not a properly ordained religious figure. Conroy's legal counsel later argued that the House's rules require that guest chaplains deliver "a religious invocation," and since Barker was not willing to do that, he could be denied.