Friday, January 27, 2006

Senate Supports House Prayer

I’m pretty sure the General Assembly has enough to do during this short session. There are plenty of bills to consider and meaningful resolutions to pass. There are items being considered that will affect a far greater number of Hoosiers than the 150 who represent us in the State Capitol.

Educational issues, such as full-day kindergarten, and highway issues, such as whether to add new toll roads, are important matters that must yet be considered.

Yet one of the priority items on the agenda of the Senate this month was passage of a resolution in support of the House’s desire to pray to Jesus. Maybe spending time passing such a meaningless resolution that has no legal binding anyway won’t prevent more important legislation from eventually being considered. But it does show where the priorities of our lawmakers lie.

Several weeks ago Federal Judge David Hamilton issued an order preventing members of the House from saying specifically Christian prayers once official business begins for the day. As a result, lawmakers have been praying before entering the chamber.

Last week, the Senate stepped in to support House members who want to pray by passing the resolution unanimously. A House version of the resolution also passed.

Lawmakers are mostly irked by the gall the federal judge had in issuing his prayer restriction. They say it violates the spirit of the separation of powers mandated by the Constitution.

The U.S. House opens its session with a prayer. Generally speaking, legislative bodies are given wide latitude to set their own procedural rules of order by the courts.

Unlike public schools, where children are captive audiences, the Senate and House do not require public attendance at their sessions. So they are less restricted as to their use of prayer.

However, the House comprises 100 lawmakers, each with his or her individual guarantee of freedom of religion. Objections were raised by some lawmakers that the prayers being said during legislative sessions were strictly Christian in nature.

Judge Hamilton did not proscribe prayer in the House. He simply ruled that any prayers must be more ecumenical in nature so as not to offend those of disparate faiths.

Representatives do not need to cloister in the hallways to say their prayers. They may pray freely in the chamber during a session, just as long as the prayers they say are general enough that proselytizing is not an issue.

The Senate starts its daily sessions with a moment of silence. The House should consider the same practice. A moment of silence would allow the religious members of the House to pray to whatever god they want. But those who are less sectarian can simply use the silence to yawn. No one gets offended.

But, alas, the entire General Assembly has decided to make a political issue out of it. It doesn’t require much of an excuse to make almost anything a political issue, but all things religious are especially vulnerable. Take the Ten Commandments, “One Nation under God,” and “In God We Trust,” as examples.

Even the Senate bill’s sponsor, Mike Delph, R-Carmel, acknowledged that the resolution was only symbolic. He said it did not undermine the judge’s ruling and that the House had every intention of abiding by the ruling.

But an appeal of that ruling is already in the works. Thus more time and taxpayer money will be used defending a practice that is of questionable value.

Yes, I know; it’s the principle of the thing.

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