Minn. state senator wants Jesus out of state Senate prayers

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Minn. state senator wants Jesus out of state Senate prayers

Post by TexasBlue on Tue Mar 15, 2011 6:35 pm

Minn. state senator wants Jesus out of state Senate prayers, seeks nondenominational approach

Associated Press
March 15, 2011


ST. PAUL, Minn. - A state senator who is Jewish said Tuesday she was "highly uncomfortable" while a visiting Baptist pastor repeatedly mentioned Jesus Christ and Christianity in a prayer on the floor of the state Senate a day earlier, and wants to require that prayers in the chamber be nondenominational.

The prayer, and the reaction to it by Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, threatens to re-ignite a debate that's long simmered in the Minnesota Legislature over the content of the invocations that open each Senate and House floor chamber session. Bonoff said she's met resistance to her concerns from some members of the new Republican majorities in the House and Senate.

"If we're going to invite clergy to the Senate session to pray, we know they're coming from a denomination or a religion that represents a belief system," said Sen. David Brown, R-Becker. "I believe we don't have the right to censor their prayers."

Brown defended the prayer by the Rev. Dennis Campbell of Granite City Baptist Church in St. Cloud, who is controversial in his own right. Last year, Campbell drew criticism from fellow clergy when he placed a full-page newspaper ad questioning whether Islam was "a threat to America." He said Tuesday he still holds those concerns.

Campbell opened the Senate floor session Monday with a two-minute prayer that mentioned Jesus Christ by name three times and made other references to Christianity. "And we pray, Lord, that you help us to show reverence to the Lord Jesus Christ and the word of God today," Campbell prayed.

Bonoff, elected to the state Senate in 2005, said it has been Senate tradition that visiting religious leaders are asked to refrain from direct references to any specific faith. The letter given to the visitors by the Secretary of the Senate lays out such a request: "In an effort to be respectful of the religious diversity of our membership (Christian, Jewish and possibly others among them), we request that your prayer be interfaith and nonsectarian."

After Campbell's prayer Monday, Bonoff rose to object to its content and demand he not be invited back. She said she was not reassured by an initially noncommittal response from Senate leaders. Bonoff said she intends to ask Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch to commit to changing the letter to say the Senate members "require" rather than "request" that prayers be interfaith and nonsectarian.

"I'm a very religious woman and believe deeply in God," Bonoff said. "We honor God in public and our political discourse, and that's proper. But in doing a nondenominational prayer we are honoring him without violating the separation of church and state."

Bonoff said if Koch won't commit to the change, she will try to implement it through the Senate rules process. Bonoff said other Jewish members of the Legislature share her concerns.

"It makes anyone who doesn't pray through Jesus Christ, or believe in Jesus Christ — it makes them feel like they don't belong," said Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, who is Jewish. "It makes me feel like I don't belong on the Senate floor to which I was duly elected by my constituents. In a government chamber, I and others should not be made to feel that way."

A spokesman for Koch said the Senate majority leader had not yet received a request from Bonoff and had no immediate comment.

Tussles over the content of prayers in Minnesota's House and Senate are not new. In 2000, a handful of Jewish House members sought similar guidelines in that chamber to what Bonoff is proposing for the Senate. Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, said their attempt was unsuccessful and he spent several years outside the House chamber during opening prayers.

Paymar said a pastor who opened a House session in February with a Christian prayer made several Jewish members uncomfortable. Paymar said he spoke about the issue with Speaker Kurt Zellers, and said he'd likely take further steps if it happens again.

In January, the Hawaii State Senate ended opening prayers altogether out of concern over possible lawsuits on First Amendment grounds.

Brown, who joined the Senate in January, said he'd oppose attempts to keep Christianity or other specific religious references out of opening prayers.

"Pastor Campbell, yesterday, he just prayed the way he would always pray and there just seems to be intolerance for the name of Jesus on the Senate floor," Brown said.

Campbell declined to say which state senator invited him to pray in the Senate chamber. But he said there was nothing in his prayer to which Jewish people should take offense.

"There's nobody that loves the Jews any more than the Christians, so that was not meant as an insult or disrespect," Campbell said. "Rather, it was a show of respect to Jesus Christ — just like our founders showed respect to Jesus Christ and the word of God when they built our Constitution."
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Re: Minn. state senator wants Jesus out of state Senate prayers

Post by The_Amber_Spyglass on Thu Mar 17, 2011 4:31 am

How do you feel about this Tex?
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Re: Minn. state senator wants Jesus out of state Senate prayers

Post by TexasBlue on Thu Mar 17, 2011 4:45 am

Not sure. I think it's a whiny situation on one hand. On the other hand, keep religion out of govt.


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Re: Minn. state senator wants Jesus out of state Senate prayers

Post by The_Amber_Spyglass on Thu Mar 17, 2011 5:08 am

I can understand why the Jewish guy feels a little isolated. I always feel that personal beliefs should always remain personal.
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Re: Minn. state senator wants Jesus out of state Senate prayers

Post by TexasBlue on Thu Mar 17, 2011 2:31 pm

The_Amber_Spyglass wrote:I can understand why the Jewish guy feels a little isolated. I always feel that personal beliefs should always remain personal.

I guess that's how it is when one is religious. If it were me and I was born into the Jewish faith and wasn't practicing it, I wouldn't have said a thing.
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Re: Minn. state senator wants Jesus out of state Senate prayers

Post by Guest on Mon Mar 21, 2011 5:53 pm

TexasBlue wrote:Not sure. I think it's a whiny situation on one hand. On the other hand, keep religion out of govt.

Religion has no place in government. This is the government endorsing a religion, which is not constitutional. The elected official is Jewish. He should not be subjected to discrimination because this state government breaks the constitution and endorses Christianity.

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Re: Minn. state senator wants Jesus out of state Senate prayers

Post by TexasBlue on Mon Mar 21, 2011 7:36 pm

Cookie Parker wrote:This is the government endorsing a religion, which is not constitutional.

The 1st Amendment says Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. That means that it can't establish a religion nor can it prevent one from worshiping.

Btw, I'm not religious. Big Grin
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Re: Minn. state senator wants Jesus out of state Senate prayers

Post by The_Amber_Spyglass on Tue Mar 22, 2011 12:27 pm

Playing Devil's Advocate here, but it would seem that you are using the wording of the law to defeat the spirit of the law. "Not preventing one from being worshipped above all others". I wonder what this guy would say if one of his fellow members was a Wiccan and wanted to say prayers to the Goddess? I can't imagine he would be as accommodating as he expects others to be towards his beliefs.
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Re: Minn. state senator wants Jesus out of state Senate prayers

Post by TexasBlue on Tue Mar 22, 2011 2:08 pm

The_Amber_Spyglass wrote:Playing Devil's Advocate here, but it would seem that you are using the wording of the law to defeat the spirit of the law. "Not preventing one from being worshipped above all others". I wonder what this guy would say if one of his fellow members was a Wiccan and wanted to say prayers to the Goddess? I can't imagine he would be as accommodating as he expects others to be towards his beliefs.

I guess I don't quite follow you.
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Re: Minn. state senator wants Jesus out of state Senate prayers

Post by The_Amber_Spyglass on Tue Mar 22, 2011 2:33 pm

Specifically which part?

In the case of the first half: If somebody is demanding that prayers be said as a verbal agreement, he isn't "making a law" but he is attempting to endorse one religion over another. Hence using the wording of the law (1st Amendment) to defeat the spirit of the law.

In the second half: how would this guy react if he was expected to play along in praying to a Wiccan god/goddess? Then he would use the 1st Amendment to cite why such a prayer ought not to be said.
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Re: Minn. state senator wants Jesus out of state Senate prayers

Post by TexasBlue on Tue Mar 22, 2011 2:53 pm

I guess I wasn't sure which guy you were speaking of when you said
I wonder what this guy would say if one of his fellow members was a Wiccan and wanted to say prayers to the Goddess? I can't imagine he would be as accommodating as he expects others to be towards his beliefs.

I just had to throw the 1st in there since it doesn't speak of endorsement or lack of, so to speak. I'm a stickler for words meaning what they say rather than what some think they mean. Many use the phrase "separation of church and state" when it's not mentioned in that manner. I know where it came from but it's not part of the constitution as written.
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Re: Minn. state senator wants Jesus out of state Senate prayers

Post by dblboggie on Tue Mar 22, 2011 4:24 pm

The full text of the 1st Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Essentially, all this says is that congress is prohibited from making any laws that would establish a religion, abridge freedom of speech, or infringe on our rights to assemble and petition the government.

All of these are essentially speech rights.

Saying a prayer on the floor of the state senate is speech protected by the 1st Amendment. This prayer no more establishes a religion than a verbal endorsement of the states football team, establishes that team.

This is something that should not be the subject of yet another law, but should be worked out by dialogue between the parties involved. Perhaps they could invite a Rabbi to open one of these sessions.

Personally, I find the whole thing ludicrous. You would think that state senators could be just a little more adult about such a minor thing such as this.
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