Magazine article Church & State

Indiana Legislators Resist Court Ruling on Chamber Prayers

Magazine article Church & State

Indiana Legislators Resist Court Ruling on Chamber Prayers

Article excerpt

State legislators in Indiana are angrily vowing to challenge a federal court ruling striking down the practice of sectarian prayers before the state House of Representatives.

The ruckus began in November, when U.S. District Judge David F. Hamilton concluded that Indiana lawmakers violated the Constitution by using "systematically sectarian" prayers to open meetings. The prayers were almost always Christian in nature, Hamilton noted, and he ordered members to use nonsectarian benedictions.

The Indiana House was not in session when the ruling came down, but as legislators prepared to return to work last month, some members flirted with defiance.

Terry Goodin, a Democratic House member, told The Washington Post he would "absolutely" use Christ's name in opening prayers.

"Really, who do you pray to?" asked Goodin. "If you're offering up a prayer, you're praying to a deity. You don't offer prayers to just an open space. I will give the same type of prayer that's been given for 100 years. I won't change my words because of someone in the judicial branch who tells me I must."

Another House member, Democrat B. Patrick Bauer, remarked, "I see where religions were forbidden in other countries. In communist countries. In totalitarian countries. I think this smacks of that. We need a clarification or we need a correction."

House Speaker Brian Bosma, however, seemed to have little interest in provoking a fight with the judge. Bosma said he would comply with Hamilton's order while the case is on appeal, although he called the judge's ruling "intolerable."

Hamilton, meanwhile, has made it clear he will brook no dissent.

"If the Speaker or those offering prayers seek to evade the injunction through indirect but well understood expressions of specifically Christian beliefs, the audience, the public, and the court will be able to see what is happening," Hamilton wrote in a Dec. …

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