The federal court ruled this week that prayers in the Indiana House of Representatives must not mention Jesus or endorse particular religions. Naturally, there have been expressions of outrage. While Judge David Hamilton has also barred all sectarian or denominational appeals, only the “name of Jesus”:http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20051202/NEWS01/512020493 was specifically singled out as forbidden. The ruling came down after the ICLU(Indiana Civil Liberties Union) “filed a lawsuit”:http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20051201/NEWS01/512010428&SearchID=73228237711458 on behalf of four citizens. The complaint of the lawsuit was that House prayers overwhelmingly promoted Christian values.
It seems that the straws that broke the camel’s back in this case were clergymen who used their opportunities to pray in the House to “sermonize”:http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20051201/NEWS01/512010428&SearchID=73228237711458.
bq. One prayer urged that “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Another called for a worldwide conversion to Christianity: “We look forward to the day when all nations and all people of the earth will have the opportunity to hear and respond to messages of love of the Almighty God who has revealed Himself in the saving power of Jesus Christ.”
Rev. Lewis Galloway of Second Presbyterian Church on the north side of Indianapolis responded by saying, “I would pray that in my church, but I would not use that kind of language in a public forum. Jesus practiced hospitality to all people. When we are in situations where there are diverse faiths and ideas, opinions and ethnic groups represented, then we need to practice as Jesus did.” Other pastors agreed that using sermon-like language in their House prayers is inappropriate but are offended by Hamliton’s restrictive decision.
One “editorial”:http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20051202/OPINION/512020377&SearchID=73228237711458 rightly discerns that prayer in the House chambers _is_ Constitutional but that the judge’s decision is demonstrative of religious intolerance. While it should be the goal of clergymen to be gracious as they lead their government representatives in prayer, it is impossible to avoid offending someone in the course of such prayer, since it is practically guaranteed that at least one individual in attendance will carry very different beliefs. This ruling is intolerant toward Christian belief in particular because it restricts individuals who believe their faith specifically instructs them to pray in the name of Jesus Christ.
The ideal here is for clergy to pray for their leaders to have wisdom, guidance, and discernment in their task of leading their people. Unfortunately, some religious leaders forget that they are not praying for their congregation and unconsciously fall into habits of prayer-preaching. The editorialist had it right by stating that grace should be the goal of public prayer, keeping in mind the audience. By failing to be mindful of this, Christians have lost one more religious right to the legal system. Prayers in the House can still be directed toward God, though now limited to more general terms, rather than to Jesus Christ, the _specific_ intercessor between man and God. It does make House prayer a bit more complicated, but it is possible to work around it. Fortunately, prayer in the House has not been outlawed, and while a number of clergy now refuse to pray in the House in protest to the decision, it would be better to continue the practice, despite the constraints, rather than letting all Christian influence seep completely from those appointed to lead us.