Freedom from Religion Foundation sues Congress for forbidding a secular invocation

On May 5, the unconstitutional National Day of Prayer, the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed suit against the U.S. Congress, the office of the Chaplain of the House of Representatives, and the entire United States of America, arguing that FFRF co-President Dan Barker had illegally been denied his right to offer a secular invocation to the House (guest prayers are often allowed). Part of their announcement:

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, who represents the Madison, Wis., district, sponsored Barker to deliver a guest invocation in February of 2015. The chaplain’s office informed Baker’s staff that it requires “guest chaplains” to be ordained and to submit an ordination certificate. Barker, who was a Christian minister for 19 years, retains a valid ordination, which he still uses to perform weddings.

Not only did Barker provide all the required documentation but he also submitted a draft of his remarks after being told he must address a “higher power.” Barker’s proposed remarks stated that there is no power higher than “We, the People of these United States.” Barker also invoked the spirit of founding patriot Thomas Paine, a non-Christian deist who promoted “Common Sense over dogma.”

Conroy [Patrick Conroy the official Chaplain of the House of Representatives], after delaying for months, officially rejected the request in January of 2016, noting in a letter to Pocan that Barker had “announced his atheism publicly” and therefore was not a true “minister of the gospel” eligible for the honor of appearing in front of Congress.

FFRF’s legal complaint documents that nearly 97 percent of House invocations over the past 15 years have been Christian, 2.7 percent have been Jewish and less than half a percent Muslim or Hindu. More than a third of the prayers were delivered by guest chaplains.

This is hilarious in a way, as Barker is indeed a minister of the gospel: he still carries his God Papers, and was deemed “not a true minister” because he’s now a nonbeliever.

This refusal is clearly uconstitutional, both in denying a secularist the right to offer an invocation, and in decreeing that an invocation has to be a prayer to a Higher Power. That privileges religion over nonbelief, a violation of the First Amendment.

Another technical violation of the First Amendment is the very office of the chaplaincy itself, which costs the American taxpayer about $800,000 a year for the House and Senate. In other words, if you’re a nonbelieving American, you’re subsidizing religious activities. You do it for the military, too, since they pay military chaplains, but they’re all religious. Humanist chaplains in the military don’t exist; as the Secular Coalition for America notes:

Currently, the armed services of the United States only allows chaplains who are granted an endorsement by an approved religious organization and who have received a graduate degree in theological or religious studies. This precludes atheists and non-religious from becoming chaplains. This does a tremendous disservice to the members of the armed services of this country.

If the courts followed the law, they’d have to allow not only secular chaplains in the military, but secular invocations (or, better yet, no invocations) in Congress. They can, after all, do without this stuff. The Constitutional Convention in 1787 managed to draw up our founding principles without any prayers, although Benjamin Franklin, then 81 years old, asked for them.

Here’s the FFRF’s lawsuit; click on the screenshot below to go to the pdf:

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 1.50.39 PM

 

31 Comments

  1. Randall Schenck
    Posted June 1, 2016 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Who better to violate the constitution than the Congress. Den of Hypocrisy would be a far more appropriate name. They certainly are not working for us. More power to FFRF.

    • Damien McLeod
      Posted June 1, 2016 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      I second that.

  2. Stephen Zeoli
    Posted June 1, 2016 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    Those poor persecuted Christians. When will their hell on earth end?

    • Stephen
      Posted June 1, 2016 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      I’ve been praying for the Rapture to come and take these folks to glory for years. But they’re still here. You know I’m beginning to think prayer doesn’t work.

      • eric
        Posted June 1, 2016 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

        Another possibility is that the rapture already happened and did indeed take all the good, honest, heaven-worthy believers away. We just didn’t notice.

    • Damien McLeod
      Posted June 1, 2016 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      Hopefully they’ll all leave soon, so the rest of us can get on with Rational endeavors,— and I hope they take all their idiotic religious cohorts with them.

  3. Historian
    Posted June 1, 2016 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    I wish Barker the best of luck in his suit, but I would be very pleasantly surprised if he were to prevail. I doubt that any court would attempt to impose a judicial ruling on Congress in regard to how it operates. A court would not want to create a furor that would ensue over a separation of powers issue. It would take an order from the House of Representatives itself to the chaplain directing him to allow a non-believer to deliver the invocation. Since the House is dominated by far right religious Republicans and likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future, such an order is highly unlikely.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted June 1, 2016 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      “I doubt that any court would attempt to impose a judicial ruling on congress in regards to how it operates”.

      But isn’t that the point of the lawsuit – Which attempts to say that the congress is in violation of the constitution and the 1st Amendment.

      The idea behind separation of powers is that a branch of government cannot investigate itself and make the correct finding.

      • Historian
        Posted June 1, 2016 at 10:18 am | Permalink

        In an ideal world a court might rule in Barker’s favor. In an ideal world a court might rule that religious invocations are unconstitutional. In the real world neither will happen.

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted June 1, 2016 at 10:22 am | Permalink

          I was not looking for the “ideal world”, no such thing exist that I am aware of. However, even if the invocations are not unconstitutional which they should be, the congress cannot pull this – Barker is not qualified BS.

          It is legal justice we look for, not ideal worlds.

  4. GBJames
    Posted June 1, 2016 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    FFRF++

    • rickflick
      Posted June 1, 2016 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      +

  5. Kevin Meredith
    Posted June 1, 2016 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    I’m not so sure atheists can’t serve as chaplains. I’ve met a number of chaplains who were Unitarian Universalists, which is most likely an “approved religious organization.” And I’m certain all of them “received a graduate degree in theological or religious studies.” But, as a long-term UU myself, I can confirm that UUism has no creed and welcomes humanists, atheists, pagans, Christians etc.

  6. Jonathan Dore
    Posted June 1, 2016 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Surprised to hear about Franklin. I always thought he was one of the most firmly unbelieving of the founding fathers.

    • rickflick
      Posted June 1, 2016 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      After reading a biography, I think his basic stance was agnostic, but he occasionally referenced God in his writings and he felt that public religiosity was good for society. Belief in belief.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted June 1, 2016 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      The FIRMLY unbelieving Fathers would be Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson!!

      Franklin’s autobiography establishes him as a deistic Christian. His beliefs are also outlined in his “Articles of Belief and Acts of Religion”. He rejects most of the Christian creeds (including the divinity of Jesus), but regards God as a wellspring of morality and goodness. He was also a very outspoken champion of religious pluralism.

      Franklin wrote personal letters to Thomas Paine in which he was highly critical of TP’s “The Age of Reason” writing “think how great a Proportion of Mankind consists of weak and ignorant Men and Women, and of inexperienced and inconsiderate Youth of both Sexes, who have need of the Motives of Religion to restrain them from Vice, to support their Virtue, and retain them in the Practice of it till it becomes habitual”.

      Franklin also wrote an apocryphal additional chapter to Genesis in which God instructs Abraham on the benefits of allowing religious freedom and diversity. (I wish!!)

      • Posted June 1, 2016 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

        Franklin: another “do as I say, not as I do” person in re morality. Interesting morality that thoroughly enjoys French feminine pulchritude for years as ambassador for his country, and participated in the “Hellfire Club” in England with the roistering elite
        during his time there. History needs to be taught as it is, not turned into mythology.

      • Posted June 1, 2016 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

        I’ll try this a second time.

        Franklin: a “do as I say, not as I do” person
        in re morality. During his years in France as ambassador, wine and women seemed to be a major pursuit. And, while in England he joined the elite doings at the “Hellfire Club”. Instead of trying to make a Christian of Franklin, and others, the historical truth (insofar as it can be ascertained) should be taught, not turned into mythology.

        • Posted June 1, 2016 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

          Oops! Sorry. Looks like I can’t even type my own name right today. Please excuse the duplication.

      • Posted June 2, 2016 at 7:01 am | Permalink

        Yep. Franklin was a “little peopler”, in addition to a belief-in-beliefer.

        Madison, BTW, seemed to come around to TJ’s POV, especially late in life.

  7. Harold Sanders
    Posted June 1, 2016 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    | whyevolutionistrue posted: “On May 5, the unconstitutional National Day of Prayer, the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed suit against the U.S. Congress, the office of the Chaplain of the House of Representatives, and the entire United States of America, arguing that FFRF” | | Respond to this post by replying above this line |

    | | |

    | New post on Why Evolution Is True | |

    | | | | Freedom from Religion Foundation sues Congress for forbidding a secular invocation by whyevolutionistrue |

    On May 5, the unconstitutional National Day of Prayer, the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed suit against the U.S. Congress, the office of the Chaplain of the House of Representatives, and the entire United States of America, arguing that FFRF co-President Dan Barker had illegally been denied his right to offer a secular invocation to the House (guest prayers are often allowed). Part of their announcement: U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, who represents the Madison, Wis., district, sponsored Barker to deliver a guest invocation in February of 2015. The chaplain’s office informed Baker’s staff that it requires “guest chaplains” to be ordained and to submit an ordination certificate. Barker, who was a Christian minister for 19 years, retains a valid ordination, which he still uses to perform weddings.Not only did Barker provide all the required documentation but he also submitted a draft of his remarks after being told he must address a “higher power.” Barker’s proposed remarks stated that there is no power higher than “We, the People of these United States.” Barker also invoked the spirit of founding patriot Thomas Paine, a non-Christian deist who promoted “Common Sense over dogma.”Conroy [Patrick Conroy the official Chaplain of the House of Representatives], after delaying for months, officially rejected the request in January of 2016, noting in a letter to Pocan that Barker had “announced his atheism publicly” and therefore was not a true “minister of the gospel” eligible for the honor of appearing in front of Congress.FFRF’s legal complaint documents that nearly 97 percent of House invocations over the past 15 years have been Christian, 2.7 percent have been Jewish and less than half a percent Muslim or Hindu. More than a third of the prayers were delivered by guest chaplains. This is hilarious in a way, as Barker is indeed a minister of the gospel: he still carries his God Papers, and was deemed “not a true minister” because he’s now a nonbeliever.This refusal is clearly uconstitutional, both in denying a secularist the right to offer an invocation, and in decreeing that an invocation has to be a prayer to a Higher Power. That privileges religion over nonbelief, a violation of the First Amendment.Another technical violation of the First Amendment is the very office of the chaplaincy itself, which costs the American taxpayer about $800,000 a year for the House and Senate. In other words, if you’re a nonbelieving American, you’re subsidizing religious activities. You do it for the military, too, since they pay military chaplains, but they’re all religious. Humanist chaplains in the military don’t exist; as the Secular Coalition for America notes: Currently, the armed services of the United States only allows chaplains who are granted an endorsement by an approved religious organization and who have received a graduate degree in theological or religious studies. This precludes atheists and non-religious from becoming chaplains. This does a tremendous disservice to the members of the armed services of this country. If the courts followed the law, they’d have to allow not only secular chaplains in the military, but secular invocations (or, better yet, no invocations) in Congress. They can, after all, do without this stuff. The Constitutional Convention in 1787 managed to draw up our founding principles without any prayers, although Benjamin Franklin, then 81 years old, asked for them.Here’s the FFRF’s lawsuit; click on the screenshot below to go to the pdf:  whyevolutionistrue | June 1, 2016 at 8:45 am | Categories: freedom from religion, freedom of religion, secularissm | URL: http://wp.me/ppUXF-JlV | Comment |    See all comments |

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  8. Scott Draper
    Posted June 1, 2016 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    “filed suit against the U.S. Congress”

    Well, that’s a sure way to get some attention. I chortle with glee at the cheekiness.

  9. Ken Kukec
    Posted June 1, 2016 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Time to join a Satanist as party-plaintiff to this lawsuit. Let Chaplain Conroy and his congressional cronies choke on that imaginary higher power.

  10. Jan
    Posted June 1, 2016 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Ok, as a Canadian I feel compelled to comment

    “Barker’s proposed remarks stated that there is no power higher than “We, the People of these United States.” ????

    I could accept “the is no high power in the United States than ….” – but completely unqualified as it is comes off as a little uppity.

    • rickflick
      Posted June 1, 2016 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      Ya, don’t get uppity with the good old U.S. of A. They’ll untape your hockey stick and salt your Molson.

  11. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted June 1, 2016 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    The first major figure to raise Constitutional objections to Congressional chaplains was US President #4, James Madison (during his retirement after his Presidency).

    Madison:
    “Is the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom?

    In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the U. S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion. The law appointing Chaplains establishes a religious worship for the national representatives, to be performed by Ministers of religion, elected by a majority of them; and these are to be paid out of the national taxes. Does not this involve the principle of a national establishment, applicable to a provision for a religious worship for the Constituent as well as of the representative Body, approved by the majority, and conducted by Ministers of religion paid by the entire nation.”

    Nonetheless, the Constitutionality of congressional chaplains was held up in both 1983 and 2004 (God knows how 🙂 ) (The FFRF’s lawsuit against the National Day of Prayer was rejected in 2011. )

    If, in fact, Congress have had Hindu invocations, they can’t refuse Barker because he is not a “true minister of the Gospel”. That would be an opportunistic inconsistency.

    There have been city councils that have had secular invocations (intermittently) and the sky has not fallen. Here’s a good account of one.
    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2014/07/16/atheist-invocation/12726957/

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted June 1, 2016 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for that. I did not recall that from Madison until I started reading it. So the intent of the Constitution is well known and even spelled out by the so-called father of the constitution. But does that mean anything to this Congress…of course not.

  12. Posted June 1, 2016 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Can one find a Jain to join in? As far as I know they don’t pray to a higher power, though I could be wrong.

  13. Jim Hayes
    Posted June 1, 2016 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, FFRF, for keeping us informed.

  14. Richard Goldman
    Posted June 1, 2016 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    If we could flush religion out of our government, we might be able to get on with the business of governing, rather than legislating civil rights out of the constitution.

  15. Posted June 2, 2016 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    But this is all based upon the very first provision of the First Amendment of our Bill of Rights, which is the core of what’s commonly referred to as The Highest Law of the Land, and that’s pretty thin, don’t you think?


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