Another day (week) another outrage from American Atheists and their “allies”. Recently the 3rd Circuit Court of appeals reversed a District Court decision concerning non-theists giving invocations at the Pennsylvania State Legislature. Of course american Atheists released a statement, calling the 2-1 decision, “indefensible”. Is it? Something AA didn’t do in their release is link the decision and cherry-picked a single sentence from the 34 page decision (including the one dissent) to do nothing but attempt to provoke atheists in some way or other.
Circuit Judge Ambro, writing for the majority, said, “The nontheists here may be members of ‘religions’ for First Amendment purposes, but, because they do not proclaim the existence of a higher power, they cannot offer religious prayer in the historical sense.”
The decision is much more detailed than just that conclusory statement, but in fairness to AA, does give the gist of the overall argument from the judge. I’ve written in the past that I don’t really care, one way or the other about invocations. I have never understood why atheists would care about them either. In this case, the court seemed to use a lot of other cases, including the recent Supreme Court decision on the Bladensburg Cross to justify it’s decision.
Of course, I think that anyone, any organization should be able to present an invocation if they desire. I just don’t understand why atheist groups consider this an important step to become accepted in society. No one knows about these when given other than those people present and so it’s not anything atheists may use to show how we’re becoming more accepted amongst our peers in society.
I’m not sure how to judge the plaintiff’s argument as understood by the court: In this case, it seems that non-theists want to be viewed, for this purpose, as a religion, just like any other. If I understood that correctly, then what AA is saying here is that atheists are sometimes a religious group. Of course, that doesn’t make any sense to me, but seems like some sort of legal tactic to win the case.
there’s a lot to this decision and I encourage everyone that has the time, to take a look. It may end up becoming precedent. Of course, in their release, AA said that they were looking at possible next steps in this appeal. That may be having it heard among the entire court, or possibly attempting to have the Supreme Court hear the case.
AA also mentions that the citizens of Pennsylvania should be upset over the amount of money the state spent defending their rule (it’s not a law). Of course, they fail to mention the amount of money spent by AA, Americans United, etc., of their members dues to pursue this case initially.
Should atheists actually care about this? Will it actually mean anything in the long term? I don’t know.