By Bryna Godar
A Wisconsin group that advocates for the separation of church and state sued Congress on Thursday after its co-president was barred from giving an opening invocation before the U.S. House.
The lawsuit alleges that House Chaplain Patrick Conroy rejected an application from Dan Barker, co-president of the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, to deliver a secular guest invocation in January. The foundation says Conroy wrote that Barker, an atheist and former Christian pastor, wasn’t a true “minister of the gospel.”
The suit argues that Conroy violated Barker’s constitutional rights and the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and that Conroy’s requirements disparately burden nonreligious and minority groups. The suit notes that nearly 97 percent of invocations given to the House over the past 15 years were delivered by a Christian chaplain or guest Christian chaplain.
The U.S. House Chaplain’s office directed inquiries about the lawsuit to U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office, where a spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a call and email seeking comment. Barker had secured sponsorship to deliver an invocation from Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington on the National Day of Prayer, an annual day of observance initiated in 1952 that the foundation unsuccessfully tried to strike down in a 2008 lawsuit.
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