Indiana General Assembly

House of Representatives


Indiana House Republican Caucus Room 401-6, Statehouse Indianapolis , IN 46204


Contact: Tony Samuel
(317) 232-9887 or 1-800-382-9841



Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Speaker Bosma's Opening Day Statement
Regarding Prayer Ruling

As we begin a new session of the Indiana General Assembly we face a number of tremendous challenges and great opportunities. The first day of a new session is one that typically we look to the minority party to give them an opportunity to discuss their hopes and visions for the future. But today is not a typical start to the General Assembly; I've spoken with Representative Bauer today and he desires to have his opportunity to chat with all of us tomorrow. Events out of our hands have temporarily diverted the attention of many of us and of the rest of the state and, in fact, the nation to a new challenge that we face together regarding religious liberty and free speech in the legislative process. As you can tell by the extraordinary order of business that we are undertaking today, things are changed just a bit today.

For 189 years it has been our practice to invite men and women of many faiths to join us at this point in our proceedings and offer uncensored, open prayer in accordance with their own beliefs and conscience. In my 19-year career here, as many of you, I have heard prayers offered by representatives of virtually every faith, including Jewish Rabbis, Islamic Imams, and persons with no religious affiliation whatsoever. Some mentioned Jesus Christ, some chose not to. Others made reference only to God and others chose not to mention Him in any way.

The important unifying fact in all of those prayers: each and every one was not coerced or censored in any fashion. Every representative who spoke here and every clergyman or lady who chose to offer a prayer was free to pray in accordance with the dictates of their conscience. And the point is that we did not all agree, perhaps, on the theology of those prayers, but we all agreed and respected the individual's right to pray openly, freely, without coercion, or without censorship.

As you know, today is the first day on which we are operating under a federal court order that has ruled that a federal judge is entitled to control the content of the invocation for the first time in 189 years in our state. Judge Hamilton has ruled that the prayers given as part of our opening invocation, the official proceedings of the Indiana House, are not to "use Christ's name or title or any other denominational appeal" and specifically should not-and I am now quoting the Order-"proclaim or otherwise communicate the belief that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, or the Savior, or that he was resurrected, or that he will return on Judgment Day or is otherwise divine." In short, for the first time in two centuries, the Speaker of the House has been placed in the position of seeing to it that only government-approved theology will be offered on the House floor. I have struggled with this now for nearly two months and I believe this order flies in the face of an elected official's historical constitutional role as it intersects with religious speech in public venues. In short, I read the order to require an inquiry about the individual's theology, their beliefs regarding prayer, and to require the Speaker of the House to make a value-laden judgment, a theological determination that they can or cannot pray in conformance with the Court's order. Numerous Supreme Court decisions hold that public officials like myself can not make such religious judgments in our public work.

This was brought home to me very clearly when over the past week our staff contacted four different pastors who have prayed in this Chamber before and have used what are now the forbidden phrases. They were invited to come here and share with us today, and in each case they responded that they could not in good conscience return to the House Chambers to share and offer an invocation in accordance with the Court's order that did not conflict with their own religious beliefs. I have read numerous news accounts of many others who have shared the same view. I know there are many others who would gladly come and pray in the approved fashion, but I find myself having to make the judgment whether they could or could not come.

When that ruling was first issued I termed it "intolerable" and inconsistent with religious liberty and free speech, and I still believe that is an accurate characterization. But we are a nation of laws, and not of men (and women to update the quote), and each of us have taken an oath to uphold the laws and constitution of our state and the United States , including those laws that we disagree with. My friends and others have suggested that I defy the Court order. But after talking about this with my own children, I determined that the message this sent was completely inappropriate. We are a nation of laws, even laws that we disagree with. What message would a defiance send to an abusive husband who disagrees with a restraining order to stay away from his estranged wife and children? No, this is a law and we must obey it.

Many others have suggested that I stand completely aside and implement the Court's directive that only government-approved prayer be allowed in the House Chamber. I disagree. In the words of James Madison, the author of the First Amendment, "The religion . . . of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man . . . . It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes acceptable to him [the individual]." Requiring people to pray in accordance with a government-approved theology directly interferes with the freedom of conscience and speech that each of us holds so dear.

But, together we must and we shall make a stand on this issue. I have already directed our state's Attorney General and our legal team to pursue an aggressive appeal of this matter on our behalf to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and to the United States Supreme Court, if necessary. We will continue to fight this order by every constitutional means available until it is overturned.

While this order is in effect, members may, if they so choose, participate in an informal opportunity to offer uncensored, unfettered prayer on the floor of the House prior to the beginning of our session just as occurred in the back of the Chamber today. Our legal advisors have indicated that this course of action meets both the letter and the spirit of Judge Hamilton's order, and still meets the goal of many of us to let members of this chamber and our staff to gather together here and offer prayer in a manner consistent with our own consciences and unfettered by judicial interference.

There is a 189-year history of free speech and open prayer in this House that is temporarily void for a time. Those of us, myself included, who yearn for the opportunity to freely speak in accordance with our beliefs have, historically, always ended up on the right side of history in this nation of freedom. I believe that, hopefully soon, our freedom to have unfettered, unrestricted, uncensored, unapproved prayer in this House will be returned. And I pledge to continue to fight with each of you, and I know that I speak for most of you when I say that, by God's grace, we will not faint from this task. I can only ask you as we open this session with the Pledge of Allegiance that we each ask God to bless our work this session and to bless the State of Indiana .


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