“They should have the same treatment under the law as believers,” Andy Nellin, attorney, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, tells Central Voice.
He and Alex Luchenitser are pursuing a lawsuit against the Pennsylvania State House on behalf of American Atheists, and Pennsylvania Nonbelievers, its president Brian Fields, and member Joshua Neiderhiser; Dillsburg Area Freethinkers, its chief organizer Paul Tucker, and member Deana Weaver; and Lancaster Freethought Society and its president Scott Rhoades.
“We’re in the discovery phase of the case right now,” Nellin says. A trial date is expected sometime in 2018, although “there is required communication between the parties.” He adds. “We seek no money damages,” Nellin says, “just equal treatment”.
Nellin’s legal challenge follows Federal District Judge Christopher Conner April 28 ruling that the alliance of "nonbelievers" can proceed with suing the Pennsylvania House of Representatives over its opening invocation policy.
The lawsuit by the alliance of nonbelievers follows two requests to the State House that representatives from the groups deliver an opening invocation to the legislative body. In 2014, Dillsburg Area Freethinkers and the Pennsylvania Nonbelievers requested that they deliver the invocation. They were rejected.
After that rejection, the House changed its rule to require the chaplain to "be a member of a regularly established church or religious organization or shall be a member of the House of Representatives," according to the lawsuit.
2015 requests were also rejected. The second rejection lead to the law suit that argues that the rule change violates their constitutional rights and violates the separation of church and state.
Dillsburg Area Freethinkers and the Pennsylvania Nonbelievers have regularly displayed their message at Central PA Pride Festival.