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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ind. Decisions - A new twist on: How long has it been since the 7th Circuit heard oral arguments in the legislative prayer case?

On July 3rd the ILB posted an entry that began: "The 7th Circuit heard oral arguments in the case of Hindrichs v. Bosma on September 7th, 2006." Here is a long list of other ILB entries on legislative prayer.

Today, via a story by Stephen Majors of the AP published in the Cincinnati Post, a new twist:

COLUMBUS - Ohio's House speaker will ignore a 12-year-old guideline that prayers given by visiting clergy before legislative sessions be nonsectarian and non-denominational, although he asks that they not mention specific legislation or advocate certain positions.

The policy could rest on uncertain legal ground, as some courts have ruled that legislative prayer should not proselytize or reference a specific deity. Other courts, however, have said sectarian prayer is constitutional - as long as legislators allow prayers from various religions.

House Speaker Jon Husted, a Republican from Kettering, spent the summer mulling over the prayer policy after a prayer by a visiting clergy member in May caused two Democrats to walk off the chamber floor. The prayer invoked Jesus' name, spoke favorably of church-sponsored schools and referenced pending legislation clamping down on strip-club operations.

Each House session starts with a prayer. The new policy went into effect when legislators returned to the house in September after their summer recess.

"I'm not going to get in the business of censoring people's prayers," Husted said. "The most important goal was to make sure we preserve prayer in a way that made sure people had their freedom of expression."

Husted decided against hiring a chaplain, which the House had until 1995, when guest clergy began giving the prayer according to the nonsectarian guidelines.

He said he wanted to err on the side of providing an open environment for prayer without censorship. * * *

In Indiana, a federal district judge ruled in December 2005 that prayers in the Indiana House of Representatives could no longer mention Jesus or advance a religious faith - a ruling that casts doubt on the Ohio House's latest move. A federal appeals judge refused to lift the injunction while Indiana's House speaker appealed.

But in Georgia, a federal district judge ruled that Cobb County commissioners could have sectarian prayer as long as prayers from different religions were allowed.

Given the variety of lower court decisions and the lack of a definitive Supreme Court ruling on the content of legislative prayers, most governmental bodies have taken the middle road of having nonsectarian prayer, Haynes said. "It avoids the fight.

"It's a model that's avoided controversy many places."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on October 10, 2007 03:46 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions