Senate bars minister from offering Christian prayer

April 03, 2003|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

A Frederick County minister was barred from giving the opening prayer in the Maryland Senate yesterday after he refused to do so without invoking the name of Jesus - and violating the body's guidelines for public prayer.

The move revived a debate over the invocations that begin each legislative day and whether the prayers should include references to Christianity or other specific religious deities.

After several prayers early in the session included Jesus Christ, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller called on lawmakers and clergy to ensure that all prayers remain ecumenical in nature and respectful of all faiths.

Yesterday, the Rev. David N. Hughes Sr., from the Trinity Evangelical and Reform Church in Adamstown, was kept from giving a prayer when his written prayer indicated he intended to close with the words "in Jesus' name - Amen."

Several senators, including Sen. Ida G. Ruben of Montgomery County, spoke with Hughes and asked him to give a more inclusive prayer. But he refused. "I said, `This is part of my faith,'" Hughes said. "I have to pray in Jesus' name in order for him to hear the prayer, according to the Bible."

Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, a Montgomery Democrat, gave yesterday's prayer in place of Hughes.

Ruben, who is Jewish, says the issue is of separation of church and state and also one of simply following the rules.

Clergy who plan to speak are sent a packet of information, including a piece that implores them not to specify one particular deity. She says she has accepted the existence of the prayer because of Miller's reminders that the opening prayer is a longstanding Senate tradition.

"But if it continues to be nonecumenical," she said, "we shouldn't have it."

Hughes was a guest of Sen. Alex X. Mooney, who called the minister's dismissal censorship.

"They've never stood up and said you can't say Jesus Christ," said the Frederick County Republican. "I don't think anybody's been turned away before."

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