Pennsylvania House resumes guest chaplain invocation
On Monday, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives resumed its policy of having guest chaplains offer a session-opening prayer following an August reversal of a lower-court decision by a federal appeals court.
In 2016, a group of atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and humanists filed suit, arguing against the practice of limiting prayers to guest chaplains who believe in God or a divine or higher power.
A 2018 court decision sided with the group, ruling the restrictions violated constitutional prohibitions on making laws that establish a religion.
Following that ruling, House leadership began assigning the invocation to a state representative. The lower court’s decision was reversed over the summer by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, based in Philadelphia.
“The 3rd Circuit ruled in the House’s favor on all counts, holding the House’s prayer practices constitutional because they fit within the long history of legislative prayer in this country,” said House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, Allegheny County. “The court explained that ‘only theistic prayer can satisfy the historical purpose of appealing for divine guidance in lawmaking.’ ”
The majority opinion also cited a June decision in the U.S. Supreme Court that allowed a World War I memorial in the shape of a 40-foot-tall cross to continue to stand on public land in Maryland, according to the Associated Press.
On Monday, U.S. Navy Mid-Atlantic Region Force Chaplain Capt. Glen Wood offered the invocation.
“This ruling enabled us to resume our practice of inviting a guest chaplain to deliver an interfaith prayer before we begin legislative business,” Turzai said.
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .