Atheist Group Asks House Majority Leader to Sponsor Humanist Invocation in Congress

Congress PrayerWASHINGTON — In light of comments made by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy last week at the Republican National Convention, a professing atheist group is requesting that McCarthy sponsor a humanist invocation in Congress to prove that the Republican Party is not exclusively Christian.

“Republicans believe that families who work hard should get ahead,” McCarthy said last Tuesday in his four-minute address. “Republicans believe in an America that isn’t divided by race, religion or gender. Republicans believe that America only works if we put your interests above the special interests.”

The New Jersey-based group American Atheists consequently ran with the statement and is urging McCarthy to sponsor a humanist invocation on the House floor as a representation of the non-religious.

“This is an opportunity for Majority Leader McCarthy and all of the House leadership to show that they acknowledge the huge number of Americans who are not religious,” Nick Fish, national program director of American Atheists, said in a statement. “Inviting a guest to deliver a humanist invocation would demonstrate their commitment to celebrating our differences and truly representing all Americans.”

The group sent a letter to McCarthy on Wednesday to make the request.

“[O]n behalf of the more than 350,000 members and supporters of American Atheists and the millions of atheist Americans—many of whom are conservatives—we respectfully request that you sponsor a humanist chaplain to give the invocation on the floor of the U.S. House,” wrote National Public Policy Director Amanda Knief.

“We are asking you to do this to show that the Republican party is not just a Christian party, but one that is open to citizens of all religious traditions—and those who have no religious beliefs,” she said. “If the Republican party would like our votes, we encourage you to take this opportunity to show us that this party is truly committed to being inclusive.”

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The group is seeking a response by September 16. It is not known if McCarthy’s office plans to reply.

As previously reported, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sued House Chaplain Patrick Conroy and Speaker Paul Ryan in May after the co-president of the Godless group was prevented from delivering an atheist invocation before Congress.

According to FFRF, Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, had sponsored Barker to deliver the invocation as a Congressional guest in February 2015. Conroy’s office notified Barker that all guest chaplains must be “ordained by a recognized body in the faith in which he/she practices” and must present a copy of their ordination certificate as proof. He also advised that the invocation must address a “higher power.”

Barker had formerly served as a minister in California, being ordained in 1975, but proclaimed his atheism in 1984 and no longer is affiliated with any Christian denomination. He still uses his ordination, however, as a means to officiate weddings. Believing that this was sufficient, Barker consequently submitted his ordination certificate to Conroy’s office.

But Conroy was not convinced that Barker qualified under the rules about guest chaplains, and in January 2016 he advised Barker that that he was denying his appearance because he has “announced his atheism publicly” and is not a true “minister of the gospel.”

“Daniel Barker was ordained in a denomination in which he no longer practices,” an email from Conroy’s office outlined.

Barker subsequently alleged in his suit that Conroy violated his rights by prohibiting him from delivering an invocation.

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