Why Does the U.S. Congress Have Official Chaplains?

Yesterday the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) sued the U.S. Congress for barring atheist Dan Barker from delivering the invocation. (See here.) I am no attorney — constitutional or otherwise — but it seems to be a blatant violation of the Establishment Clause for Congress to allow Christian invocations, while barring atheist invocations. Why? Because the Establishment Clause implies that the U.S. Government may not favor belief or nonbelief or, if you prefer, theism over nontheism.

Now, I’m sure Barker and the FFRF would agree with what I am about to bring up, but in my mind the linked article raises a more foundational issue. Why does the U.S. Congress need an official chaplain, paid as an employee of the United States, in the first place? Even if you believe the Congress needs or should have a chaplain deliver an invocation, why would anyone believe we need that person to be a government employee? It cannot be about fiscal conservativism, since a consistent fiscal conservative would believe that this is best handled outside of the government (and so not at taxpayer expense). Nor can it be be due to any shortage of chaplains in the U.S. area; just look at the map below showing all of the church in D.C. proper.

D.C. Churches

And I cannot believe that if a pastor, priest, rabbi, imam, or what-have-you were extended an invitation to deliver the invocation, they would turn down the honor.

So I ask, again, why does the U.S. Congress continue in 2016 to have official (paid) chaplains?