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.

Pennsylvania House of Representatives Speaker Mike Turzai is being sued in his official capacity.

Pennsylvania House of Representatives Speaker Mike Turzai is being sued in his official capacity.

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.

  • Vado

    There is no reason to behave this way without motive. What’s the governments motive here…ask them

  • Karyn

    So all they had to do was let the atheists have their turn, and we wouldn’t be hearing about any of this. Personally, I don’t think there should be ANY sort of religious invocation to open the sessions – anyone remember separation of church and state? But if you’re gonna have them, have to have them all. When is the Muslim opening prayer scheduled? Have they set up a time for the Buddhist monks to come in and chant?

  • James A Duncan

    Okay, I’m a an athiest, and damn proud of it. If I attended a town meeting and they did some prayers I would not be happy, I wouldn’t say anything but I’d think this isn’t the place for this. Getting up in front if everybody to speak wouldn’t cross my mind. I ask my fellow atheists what are you gonna say exactly? “I wanna take this moment to acknowledge those who don’t believe in the crowd, thank you”….. Why bother? Let the sheep say their piece, chuckle to yourself and get on with it.

  • jimbino

    Where will all this lead? We ultimately face losing references to God on our coins and bills, in our anthems and pledges, and on our public lands’ monuments. Next to go will be Meditation, Yoga and Moments of Silence!

  • William Lincoln

    AN atheist giving an invocation is a ‘contradiction in terms”, and a JOKE.No matter how sincere, IT IS STUPID. You are asking for the inclusion of a higher authority. That is what an ‘invocation’ is.

  • yes

    In a grand country built solely upon the basic rights and the essential principles of freedom, one hand outweighs the other hand when it comes to the Christian religious people attempting to force their freedom of exercising their religion on everyone else.
    While watching the local TV, I noticed the picture of a city building in a local city with the inscription ‘In God we trust’ arched around the name of the city and I thought you know, the dangers are unseen, until it becomes forced upon everyone because of a few and with forced funding of tax payers forcing to hold one allegiance unto one belief system. Than I thought what could be added being Buddhism is growing in the USA is also arching the words ‘Buddha the divine, savior, and comforter we trust’, or ‘In Allah and his prophet Muhammad we trust, All praise be to him’, or us atheist being last to apply words, ‘In freedom and democracy we trust.’ And I think this is where we win the debate.
    My apology for my bad typing, It’s just we are not a Christian nation whose intention was founded upon the Christian religion for those religious conservatives. We are founded upon freedom and liberty and atheist are clearly denied part in their government, in their freedom, in the fierce face of religious oppression with those who are in control of our government..
    And it’s wrong.

Copyright 2013 American Atheists