TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (BP)–When Daryl Orman was invited to deliver the March 9 invocation for the Florida House of Representatives, he had no idea the invitation would put him in the middle of a statewide controversy. But that’s exactly what happened when Orman, pastor of First Baptist Church, Stuart, asked Jesus to instill in the lawmakers “the desire to protect the unborn.”
Not only did Orman’s prayer infuriate pro-abortion rights lawmakers, it also offended several Jewish lawmakers.
“It was not only proselytizing, but with the closing in the name of Jesus Christ, it was offensive to those of the Jewish faith,” said Rep. Sally Heyman, a Democrat from Miami Beach. “This was to virtually a captive audience, and this was not the right place to go on about babies being carried by their mothers.”
The concern centered on a portion of Orman’s extemporaneous prayer that mentioned the protection of unborn children. “We ask you, Lord, if you would, instill in their hearts the desire to protect the unborn, those babies being carried by women all over the state of Florida,” he prayed.
He closed the invocation in the “precious name of the Lord, Jesus Christ.” That particular line upset the 11 Jewish members of the House.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat from Weston, told The Miami Herald that Orman’s prayer was inappropriate for the House chamber. “I was offended as a woman who believes in reproductive rights and as a member of a faith that does not pray to Jesus Christ, and it was inappropriate for that prayer to be in this chamber,” Wasserman Schultz said.
Orman was invited to be chaplain of the day by Rep. Art Argenio, a Republican from Stuart. “I was very surprised by the outcry,” Orman told Baptist Press. “I didn’t seem to think that the prayer was offensive to anyone. I was simply praying from my heart.”
And that was the problem, according to some House members. The National Conference of Christians and Jews recently mailed a list of “suggestions” for prayers at public events. The House of Representatives’ Clerk’s office mailed a list of the prayer suggestions to Orman prior to his scheduled invocation.
“To be honest, I didn’t read the guidelines because I don’t write out my prayers. I pray extemporaneously,” Orman said. “I just pray what’s on my heart.”
The day following his prayer, newspapers from across the state reported the incident and it received nationwide coverage in USA Today. “We’ve had dozens and dozens of telephone calls in support of the prayer,” Orman said. “But truthfully, I never would have imagined someone taking offense at the name of Jesus Christ in a prayer.”
Ironically, the controversy came just one week before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a Duval County school board policy of allowing graduation messages, which may include prayer, at commencement does not violate the separation of church and state.
The ruling affects the content of high school graduation ceremonies in Florida, Georgia and Alabama. The school board allowed seniors to vote if they wanted a message delivered and then selected which students should give it. The message is not censored by the school system.
Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus said the school board’s policy passes constitutional muster.
“The total absence of state involvement in deciding whether there will be a graduation message, who will speak, or what the speaker may say combined with the student speaker’s complete autonomy over the content of the message convinces us that the message delivered, be it secular or sectarian or both, is not state-sponsored,” Marcus wrote.
“To conclude otherwise would come perilously close to announcing an absolute rule that would excise all private religious expression from a public graduation ceremony, no matter how neutral the process of selecting the speaker may be, nor how autonomous the speaker may be in crafting her message.”
Attorneys for Bill Sheppard, the plaintiff in the lawsuit, said they plan to appeal the ruling.
Duvall County School Board member Stan Jordan, told The Florida Times Union he was pleased with the ruling. “Praise the Lord,” he said. “I expected it, but I am thrilled that students will have the latitude to pray at graduation. I’m glad to know that common sense exists on that bench.”