House Chaplain Who Blocked Atheist Invocation Speaker Will Step Down in May

One of the conclusions of the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Greece v. Galloway was the understanding that if a government body allowed invocations at all, they had to be open to people of all religious backgrounds, including people without religion. It specifically applied to city councils, but what about Congress?

That’s what atheist Dan Barker wanted to know. In 2016, the Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president went through all the necessary steps that pastors would go through to deliver an invocation for the U.S. House of Representatives, but his efforts went nowhere because U.S. House Chaplain Patrick Conroy, after delaying for months, officially rejected the request. Even when Barker filed a religious discrimination lawsuit against Conroy, his staff, and House Speaker Paul Ryan, a judge dismissed the lawsuit.

I bring that up because the chaplain in question, Patrick J. Conroy, just announced he’ll be stepping down in May:

The in-house chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives is stepping down next month after seven years in the post.

Rev. Patrick J. Conroy, 67, a Catholic priest of the Jesuit order, has served in the post since 2011, when then-Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pegged him for the post.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin commended Conroy for his work as chaplain Monday.

“As chaplain, Father Conroy has been a great source of strength and support to our community,” Ryan said in a statement. “He is deeply admired by members and staff. Father Conroy’s ministry here has made a difference, and we are all very grateful to him.”

His reasons for stepping down aren’t clear, but Ryan, with the approval of Pelosi, will get to name his replacement, and a House majority will have to confirm the nominee. While a chaplain could conceivably be of any faith, all 52 in our country’s history have been Christian men. Odds are that won’t change.

I asked Barker what he made of Conroy’s retirement, and his response was straightforward:

As the plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging Conroy’s refusal to allow a secular invocation on behalf of nonreligious Americans, I hope Congress will replace him with a chaplain who is more respectful of diversity. The House of Representatives should be, after all, representative.

I hope he’s right. But I’m not optimistic.

(Portions of this article were published earlier. Thanks to Brian for the link)

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