Thursday, December 01, 2005

legislating in the name of jesus

for many years, the indiana house has begun its daily sessions with a prayer, usually a prayer to jesus. yesterday a federal judge ruled that these prayers must be open and non-sectarian. starting off with a prayer is fine, the judge said, but the prayers can't mention jesus by name, for example.

house speaker brian bosma flipped out.

Rep. Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, who as speaker became a defendant in the case, called the decision "intolerable," "terrible," and "shocking." It violates the free speech of religious leaders, he said. According to the ruling, "the name of Christ will not be said in prayer during the coming session."

But Bosma said he hasn't decided whether he'll follow the order.

"This is an intolerable decision I hope cannot stand."

so he hasn't decided whether to obey a court order? sorry boz, but as a citizen of the united states, you are obligated to obey court orders. you don't have much choice in the matter. and as an elected official (not just any official, but the most powerful in the house) you are doubly obligated to follow the rule of law.

doug has a great post analyzing the judge's decision, with lots of good quotes. you might hear a bunch of claptrap that the prayers were not exclusive because some prayers were given by jews and muslims. but that's not quite true: in 2005, there was one prayer by a jewish rabbi, and another one by a muslim imam. doug includes this "insightful" quote from the court regarding this:

Clerics of religious minorities often have substantial experience in getting along with a majority who believes differently and in avoiding giving offense to that majority in a public setting. Perhaps it is not mere coincidence that the only transcribed prayer in the 2005 session from someone outside the Christian religion, that of the imam, was inclusive and non-sectarian.

doug also points out bosma's huffing and puffing about the ruling is bogus. the boz tells reporters that this decision violates free speech rights, but in truth, he's full of it. he knows that's not really the case:

As a matter of law, the Speaker conceded that prayers from the podium are government speech because the Speaker controls access to the podium. I doubt we'll see the government speech distinction from those who will criticize this decision. The Court says:

There is "a crucial difference between government speech endorsing religion, which the Establishment Clause forbids, and private speech endorsing religion, which the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses protect."

I predict the crucial difference between government speech and private speech will also be routinely ignored.

sure enough, doug has a follow-up this morning titled "as predicted":

Speaker Bosma is a smart guy who knows the law pretty well. He was one of the instructors for the bar exam review course I took. So, his "misunderstanding" isn't honest. He's just being disingenuous by ignoring the critical distinction between government speech and private speech.

nicely done, doug, though it's generally not that difficult to point out brian bosma's hypocrisy.

but i don't really care too much about what brian bosma says. other people have much more interesting things to say. for example, a commenter on TDW points out this lovely quote from the AP version of the story, which is startlingly close to something dicussed in the comments of this very blog just the other day.

During one prayer in April, elder Clarence Brown of Second Baptist Church in Bedford sang a gospel song called "Just A Little Talk With Jesus," prompting some lawmakers to leave the chamber and several people to lodge complaints with the ICLU.

Brown said Wednesday he disagrees with Hamilton's ruling.

"If it is not in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who died on the cross, your prayers will not get answered," Brown said.

in the comments of my bibleman post the other day, we discussed a very similar statement made by a commenter at another blog. we had a nice chuckle about that commenter... yet here a baptist minister echoes the same thought, practically verbatim. and not just any minister, but one who has been invited to give the opening prayer at the statehouse. that's rather disturbing. it's easy to dismiss blog commenters as being trolls or crazies, but when a relatively powerful person makes these kinds of statements, that's frightening.

in the bibleman comments, i joked about the ridiculous logical contortions that this kind of thinking forces one into. i wrote "obviously, that means that prayers made by non-christians simply don't work. okay, simple enough. but does that also mean that if a devout christian offers up a heartfelt prayer, but forgets to explicitly mention jesus by name, that prayer won't be answered either?" it's as though god has some sort of "prayer checklist" to determine who gets the goods: prayer mentions jesus by name? check. prayer uses formal english? check. prayer includes animal sacrifice? uh-oh, sorry clarence, but no animal sacrifice means no merry christmas for you! someone's name is going on the naughty list...

seriously, people like clarence brown and his ignorant views are precisely the reason why statehouse prayers need to be non-sectarian if they're to be included at all. personally, i don't see why we would still open session with a prayer everyday, but if we must, let's be open and inclusive about it.


Doug said...

Excellent post. And not just because you heap undeserved praise on my post. Really, Judge Hamilton did a great job on the opinion.

Anonymous said...

so I am just catching up to the blog...went back and read the bibleman comments. Am wondering what is all this BS about prayers not in Jesus' name don't count???? Mind you Catholics see Jesus as the Messiah but we do have this whole Trintiy deal and we pray to Mary and various Saints. Anyone who knows squat about any saint knows that the reason they get to be saints (actually cannonized that is) is becuase someone prayed to them and was granted a miracle. Of course it is not that simple but they are Jesus not involved... And of course God being "the father" can probably handle any prayer request if need be, being he was there first and all.