Senate likely to ease prayer requirement

Lawmakers are expected to adopt recommendation on beginning of sessions

General Assembly

January 15, 2004|By Ivan Penn and David Nitkin | Ivan Penn and David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Members of the Maryland Senate will no longer be required to attend the prayer at the beginning of each session, if lawmakers adopt a recommendation being considered today.

After last year's heated debate over use of the name of Jesus Christ during prayers, a committee appointed by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller is proposing that the traditional prayer take place before each senator registers attendance in the chamber.

The Senate is expected to approve the recommendation today.

"If people feel they would be offended, the roll call vote won't be taken until after," Miller said.

Similar to the House

The new order for the opening of the Senate's daily work session is similar to timing of the prayer in the House of Delegates. The House does not take roll call until after the prayer is concluded.

The change resulted from concerns by several Jewish and Christian members of the Senate who complained about clergy who invoked the name of a specific deity during last year's legislative session.

But the recommendation under consideration today is receiving positive support from those who raised concerns last year.

`Willing to give it a try'

"My reaction is I'm certainly willing to give it a try," said Sen. Leonard H. Teitelbaum, a Montgomery County Democrat. "The advantage is you don't have to be in the chamber during the prayer. The disadvantage is we're not participating in the ecumenical process."

The National Conference of State Legislatures and the National Conference for Community and Justice, a widely respected interfaith group, urge lawmakers and clergy to use ecumenical approaches to prayers before the general public.

The Senate's rules have reflected the recommendations of those groups.

Generally, anyone giving the prayer in the Senate has been asked not to mention a specific deity and should conclude with a generic phrase, such as "amen" or "in your name we pray."

Still, several ministers and a lawmaker violated the rule last year, prompting the latest recommendation.

Sen. Larry E. Haines, a Carroll County Republican, was among those who concluded their prayers with Jesus' name.

Haines said at the time that he did not intend to offend anyone.

"When I end a prayer in public, the way I end it, I say, `In Jesus' name I pray, amen,'" Haines said after criticism last year. "I don't say in Jesus' name we pray."

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