By Tal Alexrod
A federal appeals court handed a legal victory to House Rev. Patrick J. Conroy on Good Friday when it ruled he cannot be forced to let an atheist offer a secular prayer on the chamber floor.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed a claim brought by Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and a former minister, that his rights were violated when Conroy said he could not serve as a guest chaplain.
Judge David S. Tatel, writing on behalf of the three-judge panel, focused the court’s ruling not on Barker’s atheism but rather on the content of the prayer.
“To resolve this case, however, we need not decide whether there is a constitutional difference between excluding a would-be prayer-giver from the guest chaplain program because he is an atheist and excluding him because he has expressed a desire to deliver a nonreligious prayer,” Tatel wrote. “Even though we accept as true Barker’s allegation that Conroy rejected him ‘because he is an atheist,’ the House’s requirement that prayers must be religious nonetheless precludes Barker from doing the very thing he asks us to order Conroy to allow him to do: deliver a secular prayer.
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