EDITORIAL: Let them speak
Deana Weaver lives in Carroll Township. She's an Army veteran and a veteran of the U.S. Army Reserve. She volunteers time to remove litter from local roads and waterways, and she helped establish two libraries for U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq. Since 2009, she has coordinated Dillsburg's New Year's Eve Pickle Drop as well as other street fairs and activities for nonprofits.
She also identifies as a freethinker, one who forms opinions about religion based on reason. She doesn't believe in God, and she believes people can be good and moral without believing in a higher power,
On April 15, 2015, Weaver gave the invocation for the Pennsylvania Senate, which included this thought: "Let us pray for open minds and for the strength to overcome preconceived judgment."
Weaver is part of a group of nonbelievers suing the state House for the right to give an invocation to open a session. The House rules stipulate that the invocation be given by a member of the House or by a member of "a regularly established church or religious organization."
Weaver and her fellow nonbelievers have repeatedly asked to be allowed to give the invocation, and they have been repeatedly turned down by the House leadership. The lawsuit, filed last month, names five individuals and three groups of atheists who would like to call on the members of the House to begin their work with fairness, thought and good judgment.
The fact that these people want to participate in state government so badly that they will file a lawsuit to do so should be more than enough reason to allow them to speak.
One of the principles this country was founded on is religious freedom, which also means freedom from religion. Courts have found time and again that governmental bodies cannot discriminate against religion either by withholding the right to practice a belief or by insisting that one belief take precedence over any other.
In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Town of Greece (New York) v. Galloway that governmental bodies can open meetings with an invocation as long as there was no discrimination against any belief. The opinion specifically cited that the town's leaders maintained "a minister or layperson of any persuasion, including an atheist, could give the invocation.”
The House seems to think that as long as their rules no not discriminate against members of any faith, the rules can stand.
But that's not right. Nondiscrimination must apply to members of all faiths and also people with no faith. There has never been a religious test for participation in government in this country, and it is our duty to ensure that there never is such as test.
Deana Weaver has given much to her community, state and country, and she wants to give more. There is no reason why she should not speak to the House and ask the members to give their work the thought and care it deserves.