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: