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A Pennsylvanian federal appeals court just gave a major victory to Christianity and dealt a major blow to atheism in America.
The court upheld a House policy in which guests were allowed to give religious prayers to open up House meetings, but barred atheists from participating in it.
This overturned a previous ruling from a lower court that called the policy unconstitutional.
Judge Thomas Ambro bluntly stated the reasoning behind the ruling: “We uphold the policy because only theistic prayer can satisfy the historical purpose of appealing for divine guidance in lawmaking.”
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The Pennsylvania House's policy that bans atheists from providing an invocation at the start of legislative sessions does not violate the Constitution, a federal appeals court ruled.
On Friday, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower-court decision and ruled that opening prayers for legislative sessions are limited to guest chaplains who believe in God, or a divine or higher power.
Judge Thomas L. Ambro ruled against petitions brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation claiming such restriction violates portions of the Constitution, including free speech, the establishment and free exercise of religion and equal protection.
"The Supreme Court has long taken as given that prayer presumes invoking a higher power," Ambro, who was nominated by President Clinton, wrote in his opinion.
The policy banning atheists was defended by Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny.
Karl Myers, a Philadelphia-based lawyer who argued the case for Turzai, said: “The House’s practice of beginning its legislative sessions with prayer dates back to the earliest days of our commonwealth and our nation and the current House practice is simply a continuation of that historical tradition."
The 2-1 opinion noted that Congress “urged President Washington to proclaim ‘a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts, the many and signal favours of Almighty God.’”
The Christian Post also commented on the ruling:
An appeals court upheld the Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ invocation policy that allows guest chaplains to give prayers and bars atheists from participating.
A three judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled last Friday that the invocation policy was constitutional, overturning a lower court decision.
Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro authored the majority opinion, writing they upheld the ban on non-theistic invocations because “only theistic prayer can satisfy the historical purpose of appealing for divine guidance in lawmaking.”
“Because the House’s policy preferring theistic over nontheistic prayers fits squarely within the historical tradition of legislative prayer, we part with the District Court on this point and uphold the prayer policy,” wrote Judge Ambro.
“First, only theistic prayer can satisfy all the traditional purposes of legislative prayer. Second, the Supreme Court has long taken as given that prayer presumes invoking a higher power.”
While the majority agreed with the lower court that the atheists’ free speech rights were violated by the ban, the appeals court concluded that the invocations were “government speech” and thus were not regulated by the Free Speech Clause of the Constitution.