A federal court ruled Wednesday that Congress can continue to open its sessions each day with a prayer, and upheld the House’s ability to pick and choose who’s allowed to lead the prayer.
U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer, a Bush appointee who sits in Washington, D.C., rejected a challenge by Daniel Barker, co-president of Freedom From Religion Foundation, who said he was not permitted to give an opening invocation, even though other guest chaplains have been permitted.
Judge Collyer said House rules didn’t permit him to lead the prayer because he had left his faith.
Judge Collyer also said an opening prayer has been a tradition in this country for more than two centuries, and the Supreme Court has ruled it doesn’t violate the Establishment Clause.
“To decide that Mr. Barker was discriminated against and should be permitted to address the House would be to disregard the Supreme Court precedent that permits legislative prayer,” Judge Collyer wrote in her opinion on Wednesday.
Mr. Barker said her ruling was tainted by personal bias against nonreligious people.
“The judge’s acquiescence in this inequity sends a crystal clear message that our government, founded upon our entirely secular Constitution, may discriminate with impunity against atheists and freethinkers,” he said.
But House Speaker Paul D. Ryan applauded the ruling.
“Since the first session of the Continental Congress, our nation’s legislature has opened with a prayer to God. Today, that tradition was upheld and the freedom to exercise religion was vindicated,” said Mr. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican.
He added the return of Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican, who was shot earlier this year by a left wing zealot, reminded Congress of the power of prayer.