October 12, 2017
For over 240 years, our elected representatives to the federal government have begun their public duties with prayer. When a session of the House of Representatives is opened, a prayer seeking God's guidance is offered. Among other things, this is a reflection of the faith of many people across America who themselves seek His guidance in their lives.
Nevertheless, there are always those who just can't stand the idea of Americans, especially leaders, acknowledging their dependence upon God. The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) perpetuates its existence by trying to stamp out the very recognition of God's existence from across our land, much as -- quite sadly -- communist governments tried to wipe out the church from public life during the last century. The FFRF has challenged public monuments, prayer, and virtually any public recognition of religion. Like most on the Left, FFRF engages in bullying tactics threatening to haul the "offenders" into court for their "unconstitutional" activities. Unfortunately, too many school districts and city and town councils hand over their milk money to the bullies and capitulate. When FFRF actually does sue, a very high percentage of their cases are simply dismissed. However, they occasionally find a sympathetic ear (just several days ago, a quite radical federal judge in Wisconsin ruled in favor of the group's claim challenging housing allowances for pastors). After failing so many times, the FFRF is now trying a new tactic, with founder Dan Barker (who has publicly proclaimed his atheism but maintains ministerial credentials) applying to the U.S. House of Representatives chaplain to be able to lead a prayer. His application was rejected, and he sued, claiming the practice of House prayer was in violation of the Supreme Court's decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway (which had ruled permitting ministers to pray before legislative gatherings was constitutional).
Thankfully, Judge Rosemary Collyer from the D.C. District Court wasn't too eager to go along. She rejected FFRF's claims, holding that Barker could not piggyback on Town of Greece to demand that the House allow a "prayer" to what or whoever he wanted: "[C]ontrary to Mr. Barker's hopeful interpretation, Town of Greece did not reference atheists -- who are, by definition, nontheists who do not believe in God or gods -- but 'any minister or layman who wished to give [a prayer].'" The interpretation of the Establishment Clause in this and other cases simply doesn't require what Barker demanded. Sanity has prevailed -- for now.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), who was named a defendant in Barker's suit, praised the ruling and observed: "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. The court rightfully dismissed the claims of an atheist that he had the right to deliver a secular invocation in place of the opening prayer." He concluded: "I am grateful that the People's House can continue to begin its work each day as we have for centuries: taking a moment to pray to God."
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.