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Atheists Sue PA House of Representatives Over Discriminatory Invocation Policy

Harrisburg, PA—American Atheists joined with Americans United for Separation of Church and State in filing a federal lawsuit today challenging a policy prohibiting atheists from offering invocations to open Pennsylvania House of Representatives sessions. The five individual plaintiffs in the case, including two members of Pennsylvania Nonbelievers, an American Atheists affiliate, have repeatedly been denied an equal opportunity to offer secular invocations before the House.

“This is about fairness and equality,” said Amanda Knief, American Atheists National Legal and Public Policy Director. “If the House wants to have invocations, they can’t simply exclude an invocation that would represent the more-than 2.5 million nonreligious Pennsylvanians.”

This case comes after the 2014 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Greece v. Galloway that reaffirmed government bodies’ right to open meetings with prayers and invocations as long as they did not discriminate against community minority religious groups, including atheists, who wished to offer their own invocations and prayers.

“It is long past time for the Pennsylvania House to stop treating atheists like second-class citizens,” said David Silverman, President of American Atheists. “This case could have been resolved by simply allowing everyone to participate, but it seems that the leadership of the House is more interested in preserving privilege for religious citizens than truly representing all Pennsylvanians.”

Attorney Eric Husby is working on behalf of American Atheists with attorneys from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, including Legal Director Richard B. Katskee, Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser, and Madison Fellow Carmen Green as well as Pennsylvania attorney Allen Warshaw.

The full filing is available here.