Harrisburg, PA—A federal district court today has allowed a lawsuit challenging the discriminatory invocation policy of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to move forward.
“We’re pleased the court has decided that this lawsuit can continue,” said Amanda Knief, legal director for American Atheists. “There is no question that this policy discriminates against atheists. If the House of Representatives is going to invite members of the community to deliver invocations, they must welcome all members of the community, not just those with particular religious beliefs.”
Since 2008, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has opened 575 of its 678 daily sessions with invocations. Guest chaplains delivered 265 of those invocations, with Christian clergy delivering 238. The plaintiffs in the case, including leaders of Pennsylvania Nonbelievers, a Local Partner of American Atheists, repeatedly requested that they be permitted to deliver an invocation as well. They were denied and were told that House rules prevented nonbelievers from delivering invocations.
Recent polling indicates that more than 2.5 million Pennsylvanians are atheists and nonreligious.
Today’s ruling means the lawsuit will be heard by the District Court which will determine whether the House of Representatives’ policy is unconstitutional.
Attorney Eric O. 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 Luchenitser, and Madison Fellows Andrew Nellis and Carmen Green as well as Pennsylvania attorney Allen Warshaw.