Non­be­liev­ers win suit over Penn­syl­va­nia prayer pol­icy

Manteca Bulletin - - Local -

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A fed­eral judge has halted the Penn­syl­va­nia House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives’ pol­icy ban­ning peo­ple who don’t be­lieve in God from giv­ing the in­vo­ca­tions made at the start of each day’s leg­isla­tive floor ses­sion.

U.S. Mid­dle Dis­trict Judge Christo­pher Con­ner on Wed­nes­day sided with athe­ists, ag­nos­tics, free­thinkers and hu­man­ists who chal­lenged the pol­icy that has lim­ited the open­ing prayers to those who be­lieve in God or a di­vine or higher power.

Con­ner said the re­stric­tions on who may serve as guest chap­lain vi­o­late the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion’s pro­hi­bi­tion on mak­ing laws that es­tab­lish a re­li­gion.

The judge said Repub­li­can House Speaker Mike Turzai, whose of­fice man­ages the guest chap­lains, has de­nied the peo­ple and groups who chal­lenged the pol­icy the abil­ity to give an in­vo­ca­tion “due solely to the non­the­is­tic na­ture of their be­liefs.”

“In light of this na­tion’s vastly di­verse re­li­gious ta­pes­try, there is no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to sanc­tion gov­ern­ment’s es­tab­lish­ment of a cat­e­gory of fa­vored re­li­gions — like monothe­is­tic or the­is­tic faiths — through leg­isla­tive prayer,” Con­ner wrote .

He said it was “the con­tent of the prayers, rather than their the­is­tic or non­the­is­tic na­ture, that mat­ters.”

Turzai and the other de­fen­dants had ar­gued the Es­tab­lish­ment Clause was not vi­o­lated be­cause they al­lowed peo­ple of dif­fer­ent faiths to give the in­vo­ca­tion, so no one re­li­gion was be­ing fa­vored.

A spokesman for the House Repub­li­can cau­cus said the de­ci­sion will be ap­pealed.

The head of Amer­i­cans United for Sep­a­ra­tion of Church and State, which helped rep­re­sent the plain­tiffs, said the case was about gov­ern­ment treat­ing all ci­ti­zens alike, no mat­ter their re­li­gious be­liefs or lack of be­lief.

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