Addressing his colleagues in the Assembly chamber, Rep. Terry Moulton pleaded to Jesus.Apparently, opening legislative sessions with prayer is something that's been done since the founding of the state. The Senate, too, opens this way, but their laws also say that such prayers must be "nondenominational, nonsectarian and nonproselytizing and cannot mention Christ or other gods." As much as it rankles my staunchly separation-of-church-and-state self, having an opening prayer was ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court in 1983. However, the ruling had the caveat that such prayers "must not be intended to coerce listeners into adopting the speaker’s belief or favor one religion over another." So while the Senate is attempting to abide by that rule, the Legislature appears to be flagrantly ignoring it.
“In your name, and by the power of your spirit, I come against the Evil One. And I ask that he be cast from this place, this day,” he said as the Assembly opened a floor session last July.
Citing such statements, a watchdog group today asked Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch to stop the long-standing practice of opening sessions with a prayer.
Therefor, I would fully support the Freedom From Religion Foundation's efforts to make sure the Legislature was following those guidelines, but I would certainly stop short of trying to force them to stop opening prayers all-together. That's another question for another day. Unfortunately, both questions may be decided by a Supreme Court that's now woefully skewed to the right, including dear ol' Michael Gableman. Apparently he thinks government promoted prayer is just peachy. This is more than a little troubling.
What really gets me is the complete lack of understanding on the part of certain representatives who see no harm whatsoever in their extremely Christian prayers. Rep. Terry Moulton (R-Chippewa Falls) stated that he didn't "think that we have discriminated against anyone in the prayers."
Apparently calling on God and Jesus Christ to cast out demons doesn't count as discrimination against people of other (or no) faiths. Which is a belief so ignorant that it blows my mind.
Other prayers that have been offered?
Rep. Eugene Hahn (R-Cambria): “Those who don’t love us, may God turn their hearts. And, if he doesn’t turn their hearts, may he turn their ankles, so we’ll know them by their limping." And "Oh God, Our Judge, save us from holding a faith that cripples the future, and makes a better tomorrow an impossibility."
Rep. Sheryl Albers (R-Reedsburg): "So, man made laws, which are contrary to reason, become unjust. On that basis, laws we might make, if contrary to natural law, are a corruption of the law."
I know from first-hand experience that it's possible to recite a prayer that's all-encompassing, even to the point of excluding any reference to a god, and that still conveys a sense of wanting to make sure people are taken care of, and guided toward doing the right thing. If any prayer is going to be said in a place of government, it should be of that sort, and not one that trumpets the alleged virtues of one faith over another.
One of the core beliefs that this country was founded on was that of religious freedom. This includes both freedom to practice the religion of your choice, and freedom from being bullied by people of other religions. Religion has no place in matters of state, just as the state has no place interfering with religion (so long as it's not harming anyone).
So I think Moulton and the others were more than a little off-target. We can express our desire to cast "demons" out of the Legislature in a different, more secular way: by voting people like Moulton out come next election.
Once again, on a completely unrelated note, you can now download and listen to Lee Rayburn's radio show from this morning, which features yours truly. Feel free to critique my radio voice in the comments section. Click here, and select the first part of the June 19th show. Thanks again to Lee for having me on!