Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Dear Jesus, please bless my efforts to give tax cuts to the rich...

The Indiana General Assembly begins all sessions with a word of prayer. The ICLU is suing over it, claiming that the prayers are solely Christian and exclude people of other religions. Opponents are claiming that this lawsuit would take away freedom of religious expression. In a way, they are both right. But the prayer at the beginning is always wrong.

Do the prayers exclude other religions? Yes. As a House intern some years ago, I sat on the Chamber floor every day and heard only one prayer in four months that did not mention Christ by name. This prayer was a Native American prayer, and it was barely audible over the snickering and talking going on by the Representatives. (Of course, during the Christian prayers, heads were bowed and you could hear a pin drop). I was appalled by the lack of respect shown to the gentleman praying, but I also suddenly understood why there weren’t more Rabbis or Mullahs coming in to volunteer their services. It is not the Session Rules that exclude other religions; it is the legislators themselves.

Given that prayer is to be said, would limiting the content violate religious expression? Probably. The prayers are given by volunteers, and it makes sense that a state that is mostly Christian would come up with mostly Christian volunteers. I know of no volunteers from other religions that have been turned away or kept from offering their services. It does not make sense to stifle the content of a required prayer simply because the content is agreed upon by the majority of people in the building.

The main question I have always had in this regard is: Why does a legislative session begin with prayer at all? The purpose of a session is to debate the merits of proposed laws…not to be blessed by God or to repent sins and be forgiven. If legislators truly feel that they need to pray to God to help them make their decisions, why not visit the Statehouse Chapel beforehand or pray silently in their seats as the others file in?

It is not the content of the prayer that is the problem. It is the existence of prayer in and of itself that looks suspiciously like state establishment of religion. The fact that the prayers happen to be 99% overtly-Christian makes the establishment look even stronger. (Imagine if the new Iraqi governing council began each meeting by reading the Qur’an. We would probably think that they had not yet grasped the concept of democracy.) The best course of action is to completely abolish prayer from the Indiana House and Senate Chambers. Prayer anywhere else on the property should be permitted.

I do not want the podium where my laws are written to be a part-time pulpit for anyone, whether Priest, Rabbi, Mullah, or Atheist.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't the brush cleared by now???

"White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the president was briefed about the plane incident while clearing brush on his Texas ranch and was being kept apprised of the situation." - AP 3 June 2005

1:40 PM  

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