INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–The Speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives says he is appealing a court decision that bans ministers from using Christ’s name in legislative prayers.
Speaker Brian C. Bosma said Dec. 14 that Indiana’s attorney general will ask U.S. District Judge David F. Hamilton to reconsider his Nov. 30 ruling and to suspend the order pending an appeal. Bosma said he would appeal the case to the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and to the U.S. Supreme Court, if possible.
“I believe it’s a critical fight, really a cultural fight, for not just our state, but our nation today,” Bosma, a Republican, was quoted as saying in the South Bend Tribune. “I don’t desire to be on the cutting edge of that, but this ruling overreaches so far I believe it has to be vigorously fought.”
Both Republicans and Democrats in the Indiana legislature have spoken out against Hamilton’s ruling, which prevents ministers from using “Christ’s name or title or any other denominational appeal.” The prayers, Hamilton said in his 60-page decision, must be “non-sectarian.”
Bosma said the issue has galvanized people nationwide.
“Since Judge Hamilton’s ruling on November 30, my office has been flooded with calls and letters of support from across the nation,” Bosma said in a statement posted on his website. “I would like to thank everyone who has offered their prayers and encouragement and assure them that I will continue to fight the federal court’s decision.”
Several ministers have said they would not open the legislature in prayer if they are prevented from using Christ’s name.
The lawsuit was brought against Bosma by the Indiana Civil Liberties Union — the Indiana affiliate of the ACLU — on behalf of four Indiana citizens. One is a member of the Society of Friends (Quakers), another is a retired United Methodist minister and two are Roman Catholic.
The ICLU did not ask that the prayers be discontinued altogether — only that the prayers not be sectarian and not include Christ’s name.
“All [ministers] are free to pray as they wish in their own houses of worship or in other settings,” Hamilton, a nominee of President Clinton, wrote. “The individuals do not have a First Amendment right, however, to use an official platform like the Speaker’s podium at the opening of a House session to express their own religious faiths.”
Hamilton ruled that the prayers proselytized and advanced the Christian faith.
“The prayer opportunities have frequently and consistently been used to advance the Christian religion,” Hamilton wrote.
Bosma complained that the ruling gave the “legislature no clear standard for application.” For instance, he questioned whether he should cut a prayer off mid-sentence if the minister is invoking Christ’s name, The Indianapolis Star reported.
“Our nation, and this state, were founded upon the notion of free speech, including free religious speech,” Bosma said, according to the Tribune. “And I believe it’s very inappropriate for a federal judge to tell a visiting man or woman of faith … what they can or cannot say in the Indiana House of Representatives.”
Presidential inauguration prayers frequently have invoked Christ’s name. At Clinton’s inauguration in January 1997 Billy Graham prayed “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” At Bush’s inauguration in January 2005, Kirbyjon Caldwell, senior pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, ended his prayer by saying, “I humbly submit this prayer in the name of Jesus Christ