FFRF: If you must pray, pray outside the House

In a May 26 letter to Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, the Freedom From Religion Foundation formally objected to official prayers in the state House of Representatives.

One specific prayer, which drew national attention, was particularly egregious. On May 20, Pastor Bradlee Dean, who leads a very conservative anti-gay youth ministry called "You Can Run But You Cannot Hide," was invited to give the invocation.

And invoke he did. Recordings and transcripts of the prayer show he purposely broke House rules that require prayer to be nonsectarian. He also snidely questioned President Obama's faith.

In their letter to Zellers on behalf of FFRF's 430 Minnesota members, Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker urged an end to scheduling prayers to open House sessions, noting that Dean's prayer "in Jesus’ name" showed that the House's nonsectarian policy is unenforceable.

The following is a transcription of Dean’s rambling and at times bizarre prayer:

“When I arrived at the Capitol today, I noticed all the writings upon the inside of the walls. In the Supreme Court chambers, you have Moses awaiting the Ten Commandments, God’s Divine Law, you have George Washington quotes, Thomas Jefferson quotes, speaking of unalienable rights given unto us by our Creator. And when I looked at that I thought, ‘What an awesome building.’ And those in this chamber are very privileged to be here, and I am honored to be here as well. And if I can give a small prefix to my prayer so my prayer has meaning, I remember when I was a young man I had a friend who founded a company in Fridley, Minnesota. This man built this company from the ground up as he blueprinted everything in great detail. He put his sweat, tears, everything into it to establish the company. Nobody understood what sacrifice he put into his company except them that helped him along. The company grew in such a proportion that he could now sell the company and he did. On the sale of his company, the buyers agreed to keep him on to run the company for them, and in the process the company sold, and when it sold, the buyers went against the contract and fired the founder. How foolish could they be? They thought once they had control of the company, they could run it their own way and still prosper, and they failed miserably — excuse me. And it sounds much like America today. America has the longest-standing Constitution in the history of the world, and might I remind all of us here we have one Constitution. So, let us come together and unite ourselves under its directives. Because we all know the problems didn’t come into our country in 1776, they came when we wandered from the founder of the company and tried running it our own way.

"So let us pray. Father God, I just thank You, Father, for what You have bestowed on us and through the sacrifice of our brothers and our sisters, Father God, to ratify the Constitution of the United States, Father God. The fight, the bloodshed, and the sacrifice — from World War I to World War II, to Korea, Father. To Korea, and Hiroshima, and Vietnam, and Father God, Iraq and Afghanistan, and I think about their sacrifice when I go, Father God, to Arlington Cemetery, and I think, ‘That’s the reason that I fight, that’s the reason that I stand, that’s the reason I encourage my brothers to do the same thing.’ They died so we could have the freedoms that we have today, and they ratified that Constitution and sacrificed their all for it. And I end with this — I know this is a nondenominational pray — prayer in this chamber — it’s not about the Baptists, it’s not about the Catholics alone, or the Lutherans, or the Wesleyans, or the Presbyterians, 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.”

Gaylor noted that while Zellers later apologized for Dean's words and restarted the session with the regular House chaplain, "sectarian prayers offered before House sessions demonstrate why any prayer, sectarian or not, before legislative sessions is inappropriate and should be discontinued immediately.

"This controversy should be a learning experience for the House. The Minnesota Legislature ought not to lend its power and prestige to religion, amounting to a governmental endorsement that excludes some citizens. Government prayer is unnecessary, inappropriate and divisive."

On his website, Dean was unrepentant: "Minnesotans put Kurt Zellers into a position to lead the people and to stand upon the Constitution and values of our forefathers. This exemplifies a point which I have made many times: Instead of standing up for the Minnesotans who voted him in, he got a little weak-kneed and bowed to a small wind of opposition."

Dean's prayer and later comment are good examples of how religion divides people, Gaylor said. "House members ought to concentrate on legislative matters. The tone that should be set is one that respects and reveres the secular and entirely godless U.S. Constitution, which state elected officials take an oath to uphold, and whose only references to religion are exclusionary."

FFRF's earlier news release is here.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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