FFRF’s lawsuit to have nonbelievers included in our nation’s legislative chambers is not immediately affected by the announcement that the current House chaplain will retire, reportedly at the urging of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
“The in-house chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives is stepping down [in May] after seven years in the post,” Roll Call reports. “Rev. Patrick J. Conroy, 67, a Catholic priest of the Jesuit order, has served in the post since 2011.”
Conroy is the defendant in a historic lawsuit filed by FFRF Co-President Dan Barker for barring him as an atheist from delivering a guest invocation. Also named as a defendant in Barker v. Conroy is House Speaker Paul Ryan, who oversees the chaplain’s office and who is also stepping down at the end of the current congressional term.
FFRF filed an appeal last December of a district court ruling that legitimized the current congressional marginalization of nonbelievers. U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer ruled in October against opening up the hallowed sanctum of our country’s lawmaking to freethinkers.
The case began when U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., who represents Barker’s district in Madison, Wis., requested that Barker give the opening invocation. Usually, such sponsorship is all that is necessary to be named guest chaplain.
But Conroy purposefully stonewalled. Although the chaplain has no written requirements for guest chaplains, Conroy required proof of Barker’s ordination, which Barker, a former minister, produced. Then Conroy declared that Barker could not deliver the opening invocation because he lacks belief in “a higher power.” Barker responded by submitting a draft of his invocation, in which he noted that he could indeed invoke a “higher power”: “There is no power higher than ‘We, the People of the United States.’”