People who don’t believe in a God can continue to be blocked from giving statehouse invocation, federal court rules

A federal court has ruled that Pennsylvania can continue blocking nonbelievers from delivering the invocation at the statehouse.

The Third Circuit Court in Philadelphia has ruled in favor of upholding the policy that says invocations must be given by “a member of a regularly established church or religious organization.”

The lawsuit was filed against several members of the House and argued by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Deana Weaver is a member of the Dillsburg Area Free Thinkers and she joined the lawsuit after she said she was blocked from delivering the invocation in 2014.

"I am not trying to force anything on anyone. I am trying to be accepted," said Weaver.

Weaver adds, she believes there is a double standard because she has been welcomed in the Senate where she delivered the only two secular invocations in Pennsylvania on April 15, 2015 and March 20, 2019.

"I would never deny anyone their right to follow their religious beliefs. But, I in turn expect the same from society in terms of our beliefs.”

The Third Circuit Court said in cases like this, they employ a “history and tradition test” and Pennsylvania’s policy is consistent with historical practice.

The court labels the invocation as “government speech,” not private speech, which it said is identified through several factors “including a reasonable observers perception of the speaker and the government’s control over the message. The prayer here falls on the government side of the line.”

The ruling overturns a lower courts decision.

“I can’t think of anything that could be less constitutional than judging and restricting my actions based on my theology,” said Weaver, who added she believes the ruling is an ‘injustice.’

The office for the Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai said they would let the recent court ruling stand as their comment on the matter.

Weaver said she doesn’t plan to appeal at this time.

But, a representative with the Americans United for Separation of Church and State said “we’re still reviewing the decision with our clients and have not yet made a decision on whether to appeal."

Read the full ruling here.

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