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Judge Upholds Prayer Limits in Ind. State House

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By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 1, 2006

CHICAGO, Dec. 31 -- In a spirited duel over prayer, members of the Indiana state House are at odds with a federal judge who ruled that the daily invocation appeals too often to Jesus Christ and a Christian god.

The "systematically sectarian" prayers, U.S. District Judge David F. Hamilton concluded, are barred by the Constitution, which forbids the government to show preference for any religious denomination. He ordered the House to avoid mentioning Christ in the formal benedictions.

As the House prepares to open its 2006 session on Wednesday, a number of politicians have vowed to defy Hamilton, whom they accuse of undermining a 188-year Indiana tradition and interfering in legislative branch affairs.

Terry Goodin, a Democrat who rejects Hamilton's order, is among at least two dozen House members who have asked to give Wednesday's prayer. He said he would "absolutely" speak Christ's name if given the chance.

"Really, who do you pray to? If you're offering up a prayer, you're praying to a deity. You don't offer prayers to just an open space," Goodin said. "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."

Hamilton expects House leaders, including Speaker Brian Bosma (R), who is appealing the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago, to honor the injunction. If they do not, the judge said, he intends "to take appropriate steps to insure compliance."

"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, the son and grandson of Methodist ministers, warned in a Dec. 28 ruling rejecting a rehearing.

Bosma, who has termed Hamilton's injunction "intolerable," said Friday that he intends to arrange prayers that comply with Hamilton's ruling while the case is on appeal.

It was Clarence Brown's energetic rendition of "Just a Little Talk With Jesus" that prompted several legislators to decide enough was enough. The Indiana Civil Liberties Union soon filed suit in the name of four people -- a Quaker, a Methodist and two Catholics -- to stop what critics considered an increasingly sectarian prayer practice.

Brown, 51, is an evangelical Christian layman who works in an auto parts factory 70 miles south of Indianapolis. Invited to give a prayer to open the April 5 House session, Brown said he was thinking about the separation of church and state as he drove to the state Capitol.

He said he talked with God during the ride and decided to speak up for the man he considers his savior. "I wanted to share the word. That's what I'm supposed to do," Brown said. "I have to do what Jesus Christ says for me to do as a witness."

Brown's prayer included thanks to God "for our lord and savior Jesus Christ, who died that we might have the right to come together in love." When the prayer was finished, Bosma announced that Brown would "bless us with a song."


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