Miller issues prayer guidelines for Senate

But some lawmakers say statement is not enough

January 22, 2003|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller issued yesterday a statement of religious "do's and don'ts" for his legislative body's daily opening prayer, after complaints from several lawmakers about invocations often focusing solely on Christianity.

Miller stopped short of eliminating the prayer as part of the start of Senate business but called on lawmakers and clergy to ensure that all prayers remain ecumenical in nature and respectful of all faiths. He also said some clergy members might make a mistake and offer a prayer to a specific deity, but urged that they be given some grace and be forgiven.

"We hope to kind of proceed the way we have been doing," Miller told senators yesterday. "If there's a violation, bring it to our attention and we'll try to deal with it the best that we can."

Miller distributed guidelines published by the National Conference for Community and Justice, formerly the National Conference for Christians and Jews. The guidelines suggest that prayers use such closing statements as "hear our prayer," "in thy name," or simply "amen."

But some senators say a statement of the policy is not enough. They want Miller to eliminate prayer as part of the Senate's official business, as the House of Delegates has done.

The Senate usually invites clergy of various religions - including the Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu faiths - to perform the opening prayer as lawmakers begin their daily business during the 90-day session.

The trouble, some lawmakers say, is that four times since the session began two weeks ago, ministers and one senator have violated the longstanding policy of giving prayers that avoid naming a specific deity. Each of the four times the prayer ended with a reference to Jesus, which some senators felt was inappropriate.

The issue arose again in Monday night's prayer, raising the ire of several senators during yesterday morning's session.

"Mr. President, I appreciate you sharing with us the information you have been distributing," said Sen. Delores G. Kelley, a Baltimore County Democrat. "Clearly, it has not been enough.

"Although I am a Christian, I have felt from time to time that taxpayers should not be paying the bill for a proceeding at which some of the sectarian petitions have been made as part," Kelley said.

Del. Sharon M. Grosfeld, a Montgomery County Democrat, said she hopes Miller will change the policy and hold prayers before the Senate is called to order. She said she has talked with several of her colleagues and intends to speak with others to show the president there is serious concern about the issue.

Grosfeld, who is Jewish, said her concern has nothing to do Christianity or any other religion. As a lawmaker and a lawyer, she said, she is concerned about the separation of church and state.

"It really shouldn't come down to a particular religion," Grosfeld said. "That's not what this is about. This is about demonstrating respect for all religions."

But Miller said prayer as part of the Senate's business is a longstanding tradition that he intends to maintain. "To do otherwise would be sacrificing an important part of our tradition that has been with us since Colonial times," Miller said.

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