First up from the God Machine this week is a new lawsuit challenging one of Congress' stranger quirks: members' taxpayer-financed chaplain.
As longtime readers may recall, the U.S. House and U.S. Senate each choose a designated religious leader, whose salaries are paid by American taxpayers, to serve as the respective chambers' designated chaplains. In Congress' early days, the idea was that lawmakers would be away from their home districts for many months at a time, so a chaplain could meet members' spiritual needs during lengthy legislative sessions.
In modern times, however, congressional chaplains rarely do anything noteworthy, and religious members of Congress are in contact with their own faith leaders in their own states and districts. Chaplains deliver congressional prayers, often to rooms that are largely empty, but otherwise, they're generally neither seen nor heard outside Capitol Hill.
The Washington Postreported this week that a new lawsuit is challenging the legality of these offices themselves.
The leader of a group dedicated to promoting the separation of church and state filed a lawsuit Thursday against House Chaplain Rev. Patrick Conroy after he rejected a request to deliver a non-religious invocation on the House floor.
Dan Barker, president of the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, alleges that Conroy denied him an opportunity to deliver a guest invocation because Barker is an atheist. The lawsuit was filed in D.C. District Court on Thursday, the same day designated as the National Day of Prayer. [...]
The lawsuit is the result of a year-long effort led by Barker and the Freedom From Religion Foundation and reopens a long-standing fight over whether it is appropriate for a religious leader to open the daily session in Congress.
The lawsuit, by most accounts, is a bit of a longshot, but let's not forget that James Madison -- generally recognized as the Father of the Constitution -- believed taxpayer-financed congressional chaplains are unconstitutional and should not exist.
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