Friday, May 06, 2016

FFRF Sues House Chaplain Over Invocation Requirements

The Freedom From Religion Foundation yesterday filed suit in federal district court in Washington, D.C. against the U.S. House of Representatives, its Chaplain and other House officials.  The complaint (full text) in Barker v. House of Representatives, (D DC, filed 5/5/2016), challenges the criteria used by the current House Chaplain in approving guest chaplains who deliver some 40% of the invocations opening House sessions. The House Chaplain requires that the guest chaplain be sponsored by a member of the House, be ordained, and deliver an invocation addressed to a "higher power."  Plaintiff Daniel Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, says he meets all these requirements, but was not permitted to deliver an invocation on the ground that his ordination is not in a religion that he now practices. The complaint alleges more generally that "the guest chaplain requirements are inherently discriminatory against the nonreligious and minority religions." The suit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief.

FFRF issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit, saying in part:
FFRF is asking the ... Court ... to declare that barring atheists and other nonreligious individuals from the position of guest chaplain violates the Constitution and RFRA, and that requiring guest chaplains to invoke a supernatural power violates Article VI. The organization is also bringing an Establishment Clause claim under the First Amendment of the Constitution, pointing out the chaplain's office is showing an unconstitutional preference for religion over nonreligion.
"We take some satisfaction in filing this lawsuit on the National Day of Prayer, an unconstitutional law enacted at the behest of the Rev. Bill Graham in 1952 requiring the president to issue an annual proclamation exhorting citizens 'to turn to God in prayer, at churches,'" says Barker.