Can Atheists Deliver Opening Prayer in Pennsylvania House of Representatives?

Debate as to why atheists and non-believers should be barred from deliver opening invocations

Government officials are debating whether an atheist can lead the mandatory prayers before Council meetings.[/tweetit] Challengers are asking how a person who doesn’t believe in a higher power can appeal to a higher power.

Can Atheists Deliver Opening Prayer in Pennsylvania House of Representatives?[/tweetthis]

A complaint was filed in the Court by groups of atheists and non-believers that they are being discriminated against by not being allowed to give the opening invocation at the start of legislative sessions. Although Members of the House and lawyers for House Speaker Mike Turzai and other lawmakers are actively trying to negate this lawsuit, it has a sparked a nationwide debate as to why atheists and non-believers should be barred from this right.

Appealing to a higher power has always been a part of how legislative sessions have functioned. According to opponents of the lawsuit, the guidelines for the opening prayer include a person who believes in a higher power and is an active member of some church or religious house of worship. They also pointed out that the opening prayer is an appeal to a higher power to guide the session. As such, if a person doesn’t believe in a Higher Power, how his prayers would be sincere enough to be answered is the main question they ask.

Three organizations of atheists, non-believers and freethinkers, together with five Pennsylvania residents have appealed to the court saying that although people from different faiths have delivered the opening prayer in the past, they themselves have never been given a chance to do so. In fact they even applied to give the invocation, only to be turned down. According to the complaint, although people from different groups are treated equally by the law, people who did not believe in God were still treated as a ‘disfavored minority’ and given lesser treatment.

Advocate Mark E. Chopko, who represents the House says that as per the established guidelines, it’s only a believer who can offer the invocation. He has urged the House to get the case dropped as the House is well within the limits of its guidelines. Chopko says that by ‘believer’ the House means anybody who believes in a higher power.

Alex J. Luchenitser, who is representing the atheists, however, claims atheism too is a like a religion and they have ministers who preach a certain kind of philosophy. He criticized the House for narrowing down its understanding of the guidelines so that his clients were not able to offer the invocation. 


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