OKLAHOMA CITY – Attorney General Mike Hunter has authored a brief, urging a federal court to reject an appeal by the founder of an atheist activist group that claims he was discriminated against by the U.S. House of Representatives chaplain for not selecting him to give the opening prayer.
The brief, supported by 18 additional state attorneys general and the governor of Maine, encourages the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to uphold a 2017 lower court decision to allow legislative prayer and the chaplain’s decision determining who can give the prayer.
Attorney General Hunter said he supports the lower court’s decision and anticipates a similar outcome.
“The rules and previous judgments are clear,” Attorney General Hunter said. “This court, as well as the Supreme Court, have already correctly ruled on many separate occasions that the legislature may commit time for prayer and choose who gives the prayer. For an atheist activist, who denies or disbelieves in the existence of a supreme being, to argue he deserves the right to give the prayer is absurd. Other than his woeful misinterpretation of the rules, he is asking the court to violate the Constitution’s separation of powers.
“My colleagues and I strongly encourage the court rule to reject this challenge.”
The case on appeal is from a 2016 lawsuit, where Co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation Dan Barker claimed he was discriminated against by House Chaplain Rev. Patrick Conroy and Speaker Paul Ryan, when he was prohibited from delivering an atheist invocation in the U.S. House of Representatives.
For a guest chaplain to give the opening prayer, the chaplain requires that the guest must be sponsored by a member of the House, they are ordained and the prayer given must address a higher power.
In the brief, Attorney General Hunter and his colleagues write that Barker’s interpretation of the House rules are wrong as a matter of law and his allegations improperly urge the court to infringe the separation of powers by interfering with the internal rules of a different branch of government.
“Barker nonetheless alleges that he has a constitutional right to force the House of Representatives to provide him the opportunity to give a secular invocation—not a prayer—at the time that legislative rules have set apart for a “prayer,”” the brief reads. “But the Supreme Court’s and this Court’s cases make clear that the legislature may dedicate a time for prayer as a religious exercise seeking divine guidance.”
The brief continues, pointing out that the separation of powers allows legislatures the discretion to decide on such matters and to determine for themselves how to define prayer and whether such statements fall into that category or achieve the same effect.
The brief is signed by Attorney General Hunter, along with the attorneys general of Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin and the governor of Maine.
To read the brief, click here.