House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) praised the U.S. District Court’s decision Wednesday to uphold prayer before each day’s legislative session.
“Since the first session of the Continental Congress, our nation’s legislature has opened with a prayer to God. Today, that tradition was upheld and the freedom to exercise religion was vindicated,” Ryan said in a statement. “The court rightfully dismissed the claims of an atheist that he had the right to deliver a secular invocation in place of the opening prayer.”
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia followed two Supreme Court decisions on Wednesday, holding that state and local governments can open their sessions with a daily prayer just like Congress. The court also held lawmakers can choose who is allowed to lead that prayer despite an atheist’s claim that a secular invocation can take the place of a prayer.
Daniel Barker, co-president of Freedom From Religion Foundation, claimed he was unfairly discriminated against as an atheist because he could not give the opening invocation, even though guest chaplains of various faiths had been allowed to do so.
U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer rejected his argument, holding that Congress could adhere to the historical tradition of invoking a divine being, which Barker admits he does not do because he is an atheist.
Judge Collyer added that Congress’s opening prayer has been a tradition for more than two centuries and referenced two Supreme Court decisions holding that such a prayer does not violate the Establishment Clause.
“To decide that Mr. Barker was discriminated against and should be permitted to address the House would be to disregard the Supreme Court precedent that permits legislative prayer,” Judge Collyer wrote in her opinion on Wednesday.
Ryan added that he was reminded of “the power of prayer” when House Majority Whip Steve Scalise came back to Congress after recovering from multiple gunshot wounds sustained in an attack carried out by a deranged, left-wing activist.
The House Speaker mentioned in a Facebook post that the House would “continue to begin each day as we have for centuries: taking a moment to pray to God.”