"My Trusty Gavel" by Brian Turner / CC BY 2.0

Appeals court rules House chaplain can reject secular prayers

Apr 22, 2019

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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3 comments on “Appeals court rules House chaplain can reject secular prayers

  • The Hill: “… He initially argued that Barker is not a recognized or ordained religious figure but later said his decision was based on House regulations that require prayers to have “a religious invocation.”

    Not being American, I am puzzled how a house of government that is constitutionally required to be separate from, and in no way influenced by, religion can have regulations that require prayers offered on its floor to have a religious invocation. Surely, there should be no prayers being offered on the floor of the House at all. If the elected representatives want something uplifting with which to begin their sessions, perhaps a rousing rendition of the national anthem would work much better, certainly more inclusively, to bring them together in mind and heart before attending to the business of the state.


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