Celebrating 20 Years 1991-2011 



To pray or not to pray. That question has been answered.
October 14, 2007
Christopher R. Long
President, Ohio Christian Alliance

On May 16th of this year, the Clerk’s Office at the Ohio Statehouse sent a memorandum to all House members in regard to the Guest Minister Prayer Policy after a protest was filed by minority leader Democrat Chris Redfern (80th District) and Democrat Robert Hagan (60th District) who objected to the prayer offered by Pastor Keith Hamblen, a guest of State Rep. Matt Huffman (R-4th District). Their objection to Pastor Hamblen’s prayer was that he had prayed in the name of Jesus and that he had referenced legislation that was to be voted on in the Ohio House that day.

The memo from the Clerk’s office informed House members that a prayer policy that had been adopted in 2001 during Rep. Larry Householder’s Speakership, but never enforced, was now going to be enforced, at the Speaker’s urging. The policy called for ministers to submit a copy of their prepared remarks at least 72 hours prior to the session day for which they were scheduled to pray. Failure to do so would prohibit them from delivering their prayer. The policy also stated, “If it is determined that the prayer is of a denominational, sectarian, or proselytizing nature, we will ask for it to be changed to conform to the guidelines.” The Clerk’s memo stated that they were taking this action in response to complaints from some Members. The Clerk stated in her memo, “I must strongly remind members that the United States Supreme Court has ruled that prayers for public functions must remain non-denominational, non-sectarian and non-proselytizing.”

It is unknown which case the Clerk was referencing from the Supreme Court, but, according to the Alliance Defense Fund, in a letter to State Rep. Diana Fessler (R-79th District) in response to her request for legal guidance pertaining to the new prayer policy, “There is simply no question that a legislature may open its sessions with an invocation. Public prayer has been an essential part of our heritage since the time of this nation’s founding, and our Constitution has always protected the activity. Moreover, such prayer can be direct and sectarian without running afoul of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.” (Emphasis Added)

In Marsh v. Chambers (1983), in which the Supreme Court invalidated a challenge to the Nebraska Legislature’s practice of opening each day of its sessions with prayer by a chaplain paid with taxpayer dollars, the Court relied on overtly sectarian prayers as examples of permissible public invocations, referencing prayers offered at the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention as examples of what should be historically and traditionally permitted. The prayer at the first session of the Congress on September 7, 1774 in Carpenter’s Hall, Philadelphia, was delivered by Rev. Jacob Duche, including these words:

Be Thou present, O God of Wisdom, and direct the councils of this Honorable Assembly; enable them to settle all things on the best and surest of foundations: that the scene of blood may be speedily closed: that Order, Harmony and Peace may be effectually restored, and Truth, and Justice, Religion, and Piety prevail and flourish among the people. Preserve the health of their bodies and the vigor of their minds, shower down on them, and the millions they here represent, such temporal Blessings as Thou seest expedient for them in this world, and crown them with everlasting Glory in the world to come. All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and Our Saviour, Amen. (Emphasis Added)

It was clear that the action taken by the Clerk’s office was oppressive and discriminating toward Christian ministers. The Ohio Christian Alliance exists to fight anti-Christian bigotry, and we were prepared to press the issue after gathering all the facts. We are pleased to announce that Speaker John Husted has reversed his earlier action and has stated the following in a memo to the House Clerk dated September 10, 2007, and that just became public:

Throughout the past few months, I reflected and prayed upon an issue of great importance, one that has weighed on my mind and heart and one that must be addressed as we return to our work here in the House – the issue is that of protecting prayer. After thoughtful deliberation, including the consideration of hiring a House chaplain, I have determined that our current guest minister program is working quite well. As the Speaker of the Ohio House and the leader of this esteemed chamber I will not allow for our prayers to be censored – prayer is a time of reflection and guidance, a time which should not be governed by political advocacy or personal opinion. Our moment of prayer prior to each House session is a legislative tradition and I stand at the ready to protect this institution. As such, while the Ohio House of Representatives is under my leadership we will not censor the content of prayers given prior to a House session. Please implement this policy immediately.

The Ohio Christian Alliance commends Speaker John Husted for standing for religious liberties and our First Amendment rights. God bless you, Mr. Speaker.

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