Independence Law Center filed friend-of-the-court brief in support of policy.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled in favor of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ longstanding policy that requires any guest invited to give an opening prayer of any legislative session to be “a member of a regularly established church or religious organization.” 

A group of non-theists (“Nonbelievers,” “Freethinkers,” and “Freethought Society”) sued the PA House arguing that the policy violated the Establishment Clause in excluding them from eligibility to deliver the opening invocation. The Court upheld the policy stating that “only theistic prayer can satisfy the historical purpose of appealing for divine guidance in lawmaking.” 

The Independence Law Center, in conjunction with the Alliance Defending Freedom, filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of four Pennsylvania Congressmen: Mike Kelly, Scott Perry, Lloyd Smucker and Glenn Thompson.  That brief was cited by the Third Circuit to establish the longstanding purpose of these prayers — that “legislative prayers seek ‘divine guidance’ in lawmaking.”

 The Third Circuit gave two primary reasons why this policy is acceptable:

  • First, the United States has a long history of praying before legislative meetings.  Indeed, on the same week that the United States adopted the First Amendment, the Congress hired a chaplain to pray during their sessions. 
  • Second, prayer can require a belief in the divine because prayer “presumes invoking a higher power.”

The Third Circuit also addressed a challenge to the House’s practice of asking attendees to “please rise as able.”  The Third Circuit explained that asking attendees to “please rise” is merely a request to rise and does not coerce those who do not wish to participate in prayer to participate.

The Independence Law Center applauds the Third Circuit decision to affirm this longstanding practice of prayer before legislative sessions. Indeed, it is important that the legislature seeks God’s favor while they debate and pass laws.