HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – A federal appeals court is reversing a lower court decision and ruling that the Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ policy barring atheists from delivering invocations doesn’t violate the U.S. Constitution.
Friday’s decision by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholds House Speaker Mike Turzai’s policy of limiting prayers at the start of legislative sessions to guest chaplains who believe in God or a divine or higher power.
It reverses last year’s decision by a district judge, who sided with atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and humanists in ruling that the restrictions violated constitutional prohibitions on making laws that establish a religion.
The appeals court’s 2-1 majority says the policy fits within the “historical tradition of legislative prayer” and it counts as government speech that’s protected from a free speech or equal protection challenge.
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