Nonbelievers win lawsuit

Judge halts House policy on invocations

HARRISBURG — A federal judge is halting the Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ policy banning nonbelievers from giving the invocations at the start of legislative floor sessions.

U.S. Middle District Judge Christopher Conner on Wednesday sided with atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and humanists who challenged the policy, which limits the opening prayers to those who believe in God or a divine or higher power.

Conner says the restrictions on who may serve as guest chaplain violate the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on making laws that establish a religion.

The judge says Republican House Speaker Mike Turzai, whose office manages the guest chaplains, has denied the people and groups who challenged the policy the ability to give an invocation “due solely to the nontheistic nature of their beliefs.”

A spokesman for the House Republicans says they will appeal.