Friday, February 20, 2009

Hindu Prayer at the Indiana Senate

The last few years have produced several stories about prayer at the Indiana General Assembly. The opening prayers being offered in the Indiana House resulted in federal litigation and a decision restricting the practice which was reversed on a technical issue on a appeal. Now this morning comes the news that a Hindu chaplain offered the opening prayer during yesterdays Senate session. Good.

Contrary to the claims of a lot of people, I have rarely found any Christian activist who has said that while he wants prayer or religious displays in the public sphere, that it only be Christian in nature. In fact, my experience is that Christians activists are the most supportive of "open forum" idea undoubtedly because they know that if other religions gets excluded so do Christians.

As far as the nonsense that an opening prayer violates the Constitution, every day of the Constitutional Convention opened with a prayer. Delegates quoted at length from scripture during the debates. The first Congress which debated the First Amendment, including the Establishment Clause, opened up their sessions with a prayer. The U.S. Congress has been opening with a prayer for over 200 years. The notion that an opening prayer of a legislative session is unconstitutional is not well-founded. Then you have the separation of powers problem. Under that doctrine, the legislature is not permitted to tell judges how they are going to run their courts. Likewise, courts are not supposed to tell legislatures how they are going to conduct business. That court decision restricting prayer never had a chance of surviving on appeal.

Having said that, I don't agree with how the Indiana House was conducting its prayer which led to the lawsuit. Some of the Christian prayers were way too demonstrative and lacked respect for those who might hold different religious beliefs. On the other hand, people should be able to stand there and quietly respect the prayer of another religion without being so "offended" it results in a federal lawsuit. That includes when the prayer offered is Hindu.

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