Push made to bar outsiders from giving Senate prayer

February 05, 2003|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

A Montgomery County senator is trying to bar outsiders from delivering the Senate's opening prayer because some lawmakers are offended by what they call continuing inappropriate references to Jesus Christ.

Sen. Sharon M. Grosfeld, a Democrat, wrote yesterday to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller requesting that non-senators no longer be allowed to deliver the opening prayers.

"Mr. President, in a chamber that embodies a pluralistic society, it is vital that the diversity of religious faiths and cultures be respected," Grosfeld wrote. "If the Senate of Maryland is going to engage in the recitation of prayer it must do so in reverence to all faiths, or else not do it at all."

Senators often invite pastors, rabbis, clerics or priests from across the state to deliver the prayer. By contrast, in the House of Delegates, members usually offer the opening prayer.

Grosfeld became upset yesterday when the Rev. John McKnight, pastor of the Evangelical Methodist Church in Darlington, ended his prayer by referring to "Jesus" by name.

"They are made well aware of the rules of the Senate, but they are obviously disregarding the rules," Grosfeld said. "They are acting like they are back in their houses of worship."

Grosfeld, who is Jewish, was one of several senators of different religious faiths to complain last month after several opening prayers ended with a reference to Jesus Christ.

After the complaints, Miller distributed guidelines that recommend prayers use such closing statements as "hear our prayer," "in thy name" or "amen." The guidelines are given, both in writing and orally, to those delivering the prayer.

Grosfeld says there is no way to punish those who violate the guidelines. If only senators are permitted to give the prayer, violators of the rules could be disciplined internally, she said.

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