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Limits To Prayer?

Sunday, Jan. 01, 2006 12:27 AM

A federal judge has ruled that the daily invocation in the Indiana State Legislature recognizes Christ Jesus and the Christian God far too often.

The solution is apparently not to mention Christ or God, which isn't sitting too well with members on either side of the aisle. Most have said they disapprove of the ruling, but will comply with the law; others have said they will continue to pray in accordance with their Christian beliefs, injunction or not.

The whole affair kicked off when Clarence Brown, an auto parts worker and an evangelical Christian, not only offered a prayer, but then launched into a spirited rendition of, "Just A Little Talk With Jesus." Shortly thereafter, the Indiana Civil Liberties Union filed suit (Hinrichs v. Speaker of the House) on behalf of four people - a Quaker, Methodist, and two Catholics - to rein in the religious fervor. (It is not clear whether the plaintiffs in the suit are members of the Legislature.)

Judge David F. Hamilton, a Clinton appointee, cited clear precedent and the Legislature's own record, finding a majority of the invocations were, "... explicitly Christian in content." His ruling directs that prayers, "... must be nonsectarian and must not be used to proselytize or advance any one faith or belief," nor may they use, "Christ's name or title."

The House Minority Leader, a Democrat, drew comparisons between Hamilton's ruling and communist or totalitarian countries where religion was expressly forbidden.

It seems to me that these issues crop up, and neither side wants to listen. Christians start complaining about persecution, liberal plots, and godless-this-and-that. Folks on the other side start in on the whole Separation of Church and State pageantry. I imagine conservative talk radio will have a field day.

It comes down to the necessary understanding that the state legislature represents all people and all creeds; that good laws and civic duty are not exclusive to Christian beliefs; and that the halls of state are not the place to bear witness, any more than our science classrooms are the proper venue for lessons on Biblical Creation.

And perhaps if people in these situations were to actually try praying instead of waving Christ's name about like a flag or a particularly clever excuse, we might find the common ground which inspires and unites, instead of promoting disharmony and division.

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