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Pa. House wins appeal in atheist prayer-policy suit

Published August 25. 2019 06:54AM

HARRISBURG (AP) — A federal appeals court reversed a lower court decision and ruled Friday that the Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ policy of barring atheists from delivering invocations does not violate the U.S. Constitution.

Friday’s decision by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholds the Pennsylvania House’s policy of limiting prayers at the start of legislative sessions to guest chaplains who believe in God or a divine or higher power.

It reverses last year’s decision by a district judge, who sided with the atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and humanists who sued. The judge ruled that the restrictions violated constitutional prohibitions on making laws that establish a religion.

After the guest chaplain policy was blocked, House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, began assigning the invocation to House members. The plaintiffs were never invited to give an invocation.

The appeals court’s 2-1 majority said the policy did not violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment because it fits within the “historical tradition of legislative prayer” and counts as government speech that is protected from a free speech or equal protection challenge.

The Pennsylvania House’s policy to limit the opening prayer to religious prayer fits within the tradition long followed in Congress, a tradition that the U.S. Supreme Court has relied on previously to uphold legislative prayer, the appeals court’s majority wrote.

“The House’s practice of beginning its legislative sessions with prayer dates back to the earliest days of our commonwealth and our nation and the current House practice is simply a continuation of that historical tradition,” said Karl Myers, a Philadelphia-based lawyer who argued the case for Turzai.

One of the plaintiffs, web developer Brian Fields, reacted to the decision on Twitter, calling it “very disappointing.” The plaintiffs — seven individuals and four organizations — sued after they sought to give the invocation and were rejected because they do not believe in God, their lawyer said.

“The court has permitted the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to discriminate based on religion against people who do not believe in a god,” said Alex Luchenitser, a lawyer for the Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State who argued the case for the plaintiffs.

The court relied heavily on historical practice in reaching a decision, Luchenitser said, but that doesn’t mean that historical practice is right.

The majority opinion also cited a June decision in the U.S. Supreme Court that allowed a World War I memorial in the shape of a 40-foot-tall cross to continue to stand on public land in Maryland.

In that decision, the appeals court wrote, the Supreme Court “expanded its historical framework beyond the confines of legislative prayer” and established a presumption of constitutionality for longstanding monuments, symbols and practices.

“Indeed, our Court just reiterated the ‘strong presumption of constitutionality’ for practices like the one before us,” the appeals court wrote.

Turzai and the other defendants had argued that the policy did not violate the establishment clause because it allowed people of different faiths to give the invocation and, as a result, did not favor any one religion.

Luchenitser said he had not discussed whether to appeal with his clients.

If there is a silver lining, Luchenitser said, it is that the court’s decision is limited to legislative prayer and prohibits the Pennsylvania House from discriminating based on religion among people who believe in god.

Comments
FU u stupid bastard. This country was founded on Christian beliefs. You and your gay friends can go butt fuk each other as u worship satin u piece of shit.
Hey Ftard where does it say anything about a so called Christian belief or religion. Read it if you can Trumptard.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances
Now say Sieg Heil to your Fuhrer. You twit. The best of you ran down your mommy's leg. LMAO!!!!!
Well like they say most people from Tamaqua aren’t that smart & some have been know to inbreed. Funny then how it is printed on all our federal currency in God We Trust. I pledge allegiance to the flag under God!!!! What do we do if called to testify in a court room yes I’m surprised you knew the answer put your hand on the Bible. Why do so many people not believe in God these days????? Probably because as a society some people think being gay like your probably are is ok. Well in Gods eyes it’s not ok & God specially mentions it in the Bible the book you dispise.
Hey trumptard it doesn't say any christian religion. It says religion maybe the forefathers knew that there are many religions and this so called GOD that you talk about could be many things in other Religions. What a stupid narrow minded person maybe you think that the Bone Spur Joker is truly this messiah or chosen one as the Trumptard claims. You truly must be the poster boy for IDIOT of Trumptardism. LMAO!!!!!
Get ‘em 88. The only thing worse than a bully, is a stupid bully. TG is a Hitler obsessed nut job that should be afraid of God. Stupid bullies, like TG, open up their big mouths and reveal how stupid they are. President Trump is your Master TG. 3 years and counting and you are still too stupid to realize it. Ha!
What a moron you still use that slavery slang i don't have a master like you do. I am an American i didn't cop out of my military duty like your Trumptard did. Did you do this same thing a military drop out or a rapist and maybe have an incesteous realtionship with your child and have a bastard child , mongoloid, and claim it was your spouses?

Your are a Schicklgruber. So go and Sieg Heil your Fuhrer you failure of human life.

TG you can’t even achieve an 8th grade level of grammar, yet you continue to insult President Trump. You lack a fundamental knowledge of history. You missed a course in manners also. Tamaqua is a good school district. I think you sat in the back row eating erasers and busting pencils off in your a**. Maybe you stuck some up too far and they got infected. Something is wrong with you. Joke on you brudda. Here you are, a stupid bully with broken pencils stuck up your a**. Keep it up. Spelling improves with practice. America is the greatest country in the world. MAGA.

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