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Pastor-Turned-Atheist Is Suing Congress. Here's What Ignited the Legal Battle.

"I would really love the opportunity to participate in solemnizing Congress."

FFRF co-presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker (Photo Credit: TheBlaze)

Atheist activists are suing Congress, with the Freedom From Religion Foundation filing a lawsuit on Thursday over the claim that one of the secular group's co-presidents was banned from giving an opening invocation in the U.S. House, the Associated Press reported.

The claim at the center of the legal dispute is that Dan Barker, one of the leaders  of the Wisconsin-based organization, is that House Chaplain Patrick Conroy denied his application to deliver an opening prayer — something that has led Barker to take action.

FFRF co-presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker (Photo Credit: TheBlaze) FFRF co-presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker (TheBlaze) 

"I would really love the opportunity to participate in solemnizing Congress," Barker told the Washington Post. "We hope that I, or an atheist, be allowed to deliver a guest invocation before Congress."

To date, no atheist or agnostic has delivered a prayer or invocation before the U.S. House, according to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, alleges that Barker's constitution rights were violated and that the purported denial also ran afoul of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation claiming that the vast majority of invocations of the past 15 years — 97 percent — have been delivered by Christian chaplains, according to the AP.

A back-and-forth has reportedly been going on between Barker and Conroy for at least a year, with the chaplain's office reportedly denying Barker's invocation request due to the fact that guest chaplains who are approved are generally practicing "in the denomination in which they were ordained" — something that is purportedly a requirement for invocation participation.

Barker, a former pastor-turned-atheist activist, was ordained as a minister of Christ in the Christian Center Church in Standard, California, back in 1975, but he came out publicly as an atheist in 1984 and, thus, no longer affiliates with a denomination, according to the Washington Post.

The activist believes that the denial is akin to discrimination against nonbelievers. But Congress has the legal right to make its own rules, meaning that atheists could have a tough battle ahead of them.

"This is a hard case to take and win — we know that," Barker's wife and fellow Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement.

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