The Freedom From Religion Foundation, on behalf of its 16,500 members including 400 in Minnesota, has renewed its formal objections to opening the Minnesota House or Senate sessions with prayer — any prayer, nondenominational or not — after the divisive appearance and prayer by pastor Bradlee Dean on Friday.
Dean, who has said he thinks homosexuality should be illegal and allegedly has suggested favoring the death penalty for gays, gave an address before the House’s vote this weekend to approve an anti-gay marriage amendment. That amendment was approved Saturday and will now go out as a referendum to voters.
Dean, who had been told that “guest chaplains” are “advised to be nondenominational and inclusionary,” intoned:
“I know this is a non-denominational prayer in this Chamber and it’s not about the Baptists and it’s not about the Catholics alone or the Lutherans or the Wesleyans. Or the Presbyterians the evangelicals or any other denomination but rather the head of the denomination and his name is Jesus. As every President up until 2008 has acknowledged. And we pray it. In Jesus’ name,” Dean said. (Read FFRF’s transcript of the entire prayer here.)
Dean is affiliated with You Can Run But You Can’t Hide, whose mission statement is: “To reshape America by re-directing the current and future generations both morally and spiritually through education, media, and the Jdueo-Christian values found in our U.S. constitution.”
FFRF, a state/church watchdog, has taken regular complaints about You Can Run But You Can’t Hide presentations in public schools.
Dean’s prayer created a firestorm Friday, with Republicans huddling in a private caucus meeting for more than an hour, according to the Star Tribune. House Speaker Kurt Zellers called the invitation to Dean a mistake, Majority Leader Matt Dean called the prayer inappropriate and even Rep. Ernie Leidiger, R-Mayor, who had invited Dean, distanced himself from him.
In an interview with the newspaper, Dean insisted he wasn’t “anti-gay” and denied approving the death penalty for gay people, but spoke approvingly of an era when homosexuality was illegal:
“We don't enforce those laws anymore and we wonder why we are going backwards," he said. "If you were to ask me my position as far as enforcing the laws of sodomy in the state of Minnesota, I would say absolutely yes. Yeah. Yeah."
FFRF added its objection to prayer to open the Minnesota State Senate in March, after State Sen. Terri Bonoff had asked the Senate to adopt and enforce rules that prayers be nonsectarian in nature. Her complaint followed the over-the-top prayer to Jesus on March 14, 2011 by Pastor Dennis Campbell, of Granite City Baptist Church in St. Cloud.
FFRF, in a March 22 letter to Senate President Michelle Fischbach, asked the Senate to discontinue prayer altogether. FFRF found that of 32 prayers since May 2010 through late March, 84% of officiants were Christian clergy. FFRF pointed out government prayer excludes the 14-16% of the U.S. population that is nonreligious, turning them into political outsiders.
“This controversy proves how divisive religion is in government. Once a legislature opens the door to ‘chaplains’ and ‘guest chaplains,’ it invites a union between religion in government. It invites entanglement. It invites discord,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.
“If the Minnesota Legislature is going to invite pastors to pray at them and the public, how can it prevent pastors such as Dean from exploiting this exalted podium to exploit their views? We atheists and nonbelievers would love to be given this kind of access to the legislature, yet only religion, and overwhelming the Christian expounders, are granted this endorsement.
“There is no question that legislative prayer sends an unconstitutional and inappropriate message of endorsement of the views of ministers who are invited to open sessions. His invitation was timed to inflame the debate over marriage equality. The only objections to gay marriage ever offered are religious in nature. Prayer in our government is quite simply a conflict of interest.”