Legislators' Prayers Are Common but Controversial

April 12, 2007

Author: Robert Schwaneberg

Source: Religion News Service


"Let us pray. Mother and Father of us all, we give thanks for the women who have been part of our life's journey ..."

Spoken aloud at a public high school graduation, these words probably would trigger a lawsuit. But in the New Jersey Legislature, where they were said recently, it's just a matter of getting things started.

The state's tradition of inviting a member of the clergy to deliver an opening prayer dates to 1846. And while it may be a comfort to many, the practice has remained controversial.

On roughly three days out of 10, legislators in Trenton hear a prayer offered in the name of Jesus Christ. In Indiana, such an invocation could get someone jailed for contempt of a federal court order.

Last December, hours after a state Senate committee approved a bill allowing gay couples to form civil unions, the visiting clergyman intoned: "We curse the spirit that would come to bring about same-sex marriage."