Back in August, a divided panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Pennsylvania House’s policy barring atheists from delivering invocations before legislative sessions was legal. House leaders could discriminate against atheists all they wanted.
It was an unfortunate ruling. All the weirder because the Pennsylvania Senate has no problem letting atheists give invocations.
There’s little recourse here for the atheists who filed the lawsuit because conservatives have stacked the deck on those higher courts. The Third Circuit’s decision, then, was really the last word on the matter. The only real option that remains to make those invocations more inclusive would be for lawmakers to change the rules themselves. Given the current Republican majority, that’s not likely to happen.
You can read a much lengthier backstory about this case here.
But there’s one question that has not been answered until now: How much did the government spend to defend its anti-atheist policy?
Reporter Jan Murphy has the answer: $1.1 million.
The House leaders spent over a million dollars of taxpayer money in order to make sure an atheist couldn’t say something like, “I hope you look to each other for inspiration as you begin this session.” (Meanwhile, they had no problem with an invocation speaker earlier this year who yelled “Jesus” 13 separate times, effectively overshadowing the swearing-in ceremony of the state’s first Muslim legislator…)
When all the legal bills were tallied for the lawsuit that played out over three years, the amount paid to the Philadelphia law firm of Stradley Ronan totaled more than $1.1 million, according to House Speaker Mike Turzai’s office.
… Asked about the expense involved in defending the prayer tradition, he said, “As Speaker of the House, we were going to defend the longstanding tradition of beginning the legislative day with a prayer.”
Deana Weaver, one of the atheist plaintiffs in this case, was appalled by that cost. She arguably had the best response to this whole senseless controversy:
“Our money is easy for them to spend and our opinions are just as easy for them to negate. Ain’t that a shame,” she said. “I would like to be flattered that it was just so important to them to keep me quiet because that means that what I have to say is of value.”
Damn right. Atheist voices are worth a million bucks to silence.
Christian invocations? Dime a dozen.
(Thanks to Brian for the link)