December 2019 Church & State Magazine | AU Bulletin

Government officials in Pennsylvania spent more than $1 million defending their policy of denying nontheists the opportunity to deliver invocations before the state House of Representatives, a newspaper has reported.

A lawsuit challenging the House’s prayer policies was brought by Americans United and American Atheists on behalf of several Pennsylvania residents and freethought organizations. The nontheists wanted to offer secular invocations in the same way that people who believe in a god can offer prayers before House sessions, but state officials refused. Although AU won the case at the first court level, a federal appeals court overturned the ruling and said that officials may legally exclude nontheists from speaking.

The Harrisburg Patriot-News reported that the state spent $1.1 million defending the policy over three years, with much of the money going to a law firm in Philadelphia.

Americans United says that money could have been better spent.

“The court did not say the House must discriminate against people who do not believe in a god,” Alex Luchenitser, AU associate legal director, told the Patriot-News. “We urge legislators to do the right thing and make House proceedings more representative of all Pennsylvanians by welcoming nontheists to offer invocations during House sessions.”

Luchenitser added that if the House had implemented a more inclusive invocation policy like the one used by the state Senate, “our clients and Pennsylvania taxpayers could have been spared this litigation” and avoided paying high legal costs.