PHILADELPHIA (CN) – Atheists barred from delivering the traditional invocation before the Pennsylvania House urged the Third Circuit on Monday to uphold a block on the discriminatory policy.
“We’re just asking for inclusion,” said Alexander Luchenitser, an attorney with the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Representing a cadre of so-called “nontheist” groups as well as seven Pennsylvania residents, Luchenitser appeared today before the federal appeals court in Philadelphia nearly a year after a federal judge found that the policy on guest chaplains and opening invocations for the state House of Representatives violated the establishment clause.
Apart from invocations delivered by House members, guest chaplains delivered half of the House invocations between January 2008 to July 2017, and Luchenitser noted that each time the invocation represented a monotheistic face, with Christianity being the most common.
Pushing the Third Circuit to reinstate the policy, the House’s lawyer emphasized Monday that only one out of 203 lawmakers in the house is a nonbeliever.
“This policy is intended to accommodate the spiritual needs of legislatures,” said Karl Myers, an attorney with the law firm Stradley Ronon.
U.S. Circuit Judge L. Felipe Restrepo seemed skeptical, however, of the argument.
“If someone is not a believer, this is not helping their needs,” Restrepo said.
The panel was rounded out by U.S. Circuit Judges Michael Fisher and Thomas Ambro.