State Sen. Wants Jesus Out Of Senate Prayers

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A state senator who is Jewish said Tuesday she was “highly uncomfortable” while a visiting Baptist pastor repeatedly mentioned Jesus Christ and Christianity in a prayer on the floor of the state Senate a day earlier, and wants to require that prayers in the chamber be nondenominational.

The prayer, and the reaction to it by Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, threatens to re-ignite a debate that’s long simmered in the Minnesota Legislature over the content of the invocations that open each Senate and House floor chamber session. Bonoff said she’s met resistance to her concerns from some members of the new Republican majorities in the House and Senate.

“If we’re going to invite clergy to the Senate session to pray, we know they’re coming from a denomination or a religion that represents a belief system,” said Sen. David Brown, R-Becker. “I believe we don’t have the right to censor their prayers.”

Brown defended the prayer by the Rev. Dennis Campbell of Granite City Baptist Church in St. Cloud, who is controversial in his own right. Last year, Campbell drew criticism from fellow clergy when he placed a full-page newspaper ad questioning whether Islam was “a threat to America.” He said Tuesday he still holds those concerns.

Campbell opened the Senate floor session Monday with a two-minute prayer that mentioned Jesus Christ by name three times and made other references to Christianity. “And we pray, Lord, that you help us to show reverence to the Lord Jesus Christ and the word of God today,” Campbell prayed.

Bonoff, elected to the state Senate in 2005, said it has been Senate tradition that visiting religious leaders are asked to refrain from direct references to any specific faith. The letter given to the visitors by the Secretary of the Senate lays out such a request: “In an effort to be respectful of the religious diversity of our membership (Christian, Jewish and possibly others among them), we request that your prayer be interfaith and nonsectarian.”

After Campbell’s prayer Monday, Bonoff rose to object to its content and demand he not be invited back. She said she was not reassured by an initially noncommittal response from Senate leaders. Bonoff said she intends to ask Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch to commit to changing the letter to say the Senate members “require” rather than “request” that prayers be interfaith and nonsectarian.

“I’m a very religious woman and believe deeply in God,” Bonoff said. “We honor God in public and our political discourse, and that’s proper. But in doing a nondenominational prayer we are honoring him without violating the separation of church and state.”

Bonoff said if Koch won’t commit to the change, she will try to implement it through the Senate rules process. Bonoff said other Jewish members of the Legislature share her concerns.

“It makes anyone who doesn’t pray through Jesus Christ, or believe in Jesus Christ — it makes them feel like they don’t belong,” said Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, who is Jewish. “It makes me feel like I don’t belong on the Senate floor to which I was duly elected by my constituents. In a government chamber, I and others should not be made to feel that way.”

A spokesman for Koch said the Senate majority leader had not yet received a request from Bonoff and had no immediate comment.

Tussles over the content of prayers in Minnesota’s House and Senate are not new. In 2000, a handful of Jewish House members sought similar guidelines in that chamber to what Bonoff is proposing for the Senate. Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, said their attempt was unsuccessful and he spent several years outside the House chamber during opening prayers.

Paymar said a pastor who opened a House session in February with a Christian prayer made several Jewish members uncomfortable. Paymar said he spoke about the issue with Speaker Kurt Zellers, and said he’d likely take further steps if it happens again.

In January, the Hawaii State Senate ended opening prayers altogether out of concern over possible lawsuits on First Amendment grounds.

Brown, who joined the Senate in January, said he’d oppose attempts to keep Christianity or other specific religious references out of opening prayers.

“Pastor Campbell, yesterday, he just prayed the way he would always pray and there just seems to be intolerance for the name of Jesus on the Senate floor,” Brown said.

Campbell declined to say which state senator invited him to pray in the Senate chamber. But he said there was nothing in his prayer to which Jewish people should take offense.

“There’s nobody that loves the Jews any more than the Christians, so that was not meant as an insult or disrespect,” Campbell said. “Rather, it was a show of respect to Jesus Christ — just like our founders showed respect to Jesus Christ and the word of God when they built our Constitution.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • Tc Radiodj

    And I wonder who that senator could be….Hmm…

  • paab

    No censorship please. If the prayer makes Ms Bonhoff uncomfortable she can excuse herself. If a Rabbi were to give the prayer, I would sit politely through his prayer and then get on with important business. She might employ this course of behavior, it is what most of our mothers would have taught all of us.

    • MAD MAX

      I couldn’t agree more..

  • No room at the inn

    “In Goid We Trust.” With all due respect, Ms. Bonoff, if it bothers you, please resign.

    • CandyLee

      I don’t really know who Goid is or was but I believe the pharse you are looking for is “In God We Trust” and the last time I checked the Jewish faith still believes in God.

    • Lula

      I agree 100%,this country has enough complainers without senators acting like
      2 year olds,do us all a favor and resign

  • Mother Mary

    paab you are right on.

  • Sam

    I agree that there shouldn’t be censorship of others’ prayers, but why do we have chaplains (or other religious officials) conducting public prayers in the Senate chambers? Isn’t that what churches, synagogues, mosques, and the like are for?

    • 3&!cP

      I don’t know why chaplains exist at all, and don’t think praying is appropriate for a legislative proceeding. If you want to pray to a cosmic zombie who killed people when he was a child, that’s your thing, but don’t subject everyone else to it. Churches, synagogues, mosques, etc., all exist for a purpose, use them for that purpose. Don’t drag it into public. OR, say “greeting” that makes no mention of any deity whatsoever…kind of like “hey, lawmakers, I hope you all are able to accomplish a lot this session, stay honest.” Short, sweet, to the point. No mention of mythical theological figures, problem solved.

    • Mac

      Well said Sam. There is no reason why a chaplain of ANY faith should be slowing down business by this public Christian praying in a government building. It reaks to high heaven of state-sponsored religion. Can’t members of Congress pray on their own, or at their home, their church, or in their head? The founding fathers would not approve (this country was NOT FOUNDED ON CHRISTIANITY).

      On a related note, I hope the pastors are praying that Congress actually gets to the business of creating jobs that they promised in the last election cycle.

  • Are you kidding me?

    Amen to that paab!!

  • mike

    Bonoff get the hell out of here if you don’t like it

  • jonolan

    As long as they have non-Christian clergy say the prayer sometimes this shouldn’t be an issue. Dems like to find something to whine about though

    • Anita Newhouse

      Just like fundies like to complain and whine when they are not allowed to invoke their “special” connection to Christ at every point of public discourse? I pray every day for strength and wisdom of our elected officials to show the love of self and their neighbor that Christ taught the world. Grace does not flow through invoking Jesus’ name but from the actions we take on behalf of one another. Rivers of public discourse have been flowing backwards for some time and no one seems to be aware…. or care.

  • A Jewish prayer would be fine too

    That is just outrageous! I think everyone can be tolerant of a brief prayer before they get down to the business of the people. Look at the headlines, Ms. Bonoff, don’t you think we can use all the help we can get?

  • Gloria

    Enough with censorship in the name of political correctness. Please just get on with the Senate’s and Minnesota’s business.

  • Richard in Minneapolis

    Just do what I did when I was on the city council. Use the time to mentally go over the first three items on the agenda. Just pay enough attention that you aren’t caught still standing after everyone else has sat down.

  • Helper

    Freedom from Religion!!!!!!!!!!

    • 3&!cP

      Not in public.

  • Patrick

    In fact, preventing the mention of whatever deity would be a direct violation of the US Constitution. The First Amendment prohibits the making of any law “respecting an establishment of religion”, impeding the free exercise of religion, infringing on the freedom of speech, etc. For this elected official, who swore an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, to ask for a Chaplain to curtail his prayers shows complete ignorance of her oath and her duties as a legislator.

    • 3&!cP

      That, like the 2nd Amendment, is open to liberal interpretation. I don’t see anything in that phrase that says prayer during a sanctioned government proceeding is NOT a violation of the 1st amendment. Show me where it says explicitly that prayer is allowed in this context.

  • stace34

    Chaplins should remember that they are in the state senate, not in their church at their pulpit. I wonder if Senator Brown would feel the same way if this was a Buddhist Priest or an Imam giving the prayer. I very much doubt it. I would also be interested to find out what Pastor Campbell said. What was it in this prayer that made Senator Bonoff that uncomforatable.


    my best friend is JESUS AND HE IS JEWISH!!!

  • Bridget

    This country was founded on Christ, religion and the belief. That is what is wrong with this country today. We push God so far in the back of our lives that the country is falling apart.

    • stace34

      This country was founded by people who believed very strongly in separation of church and state. If you look into the founding fathers you will find that most studited multiple holy books and that they we adimate that church not be part of state business.

      Plus the Senator is not asking that God be taking out of the prayers offered, but that they be inclusive to all in the chamber not just one group.

      • JRay

        You are correct. In fact some of our founding fathers were closer to being atheists than Christians. They were very concerned that a single religion would try to control the workings of Government. That’s why they wanted the separation of church and state.

    • Concerned Citizen

      This country was founded with religious freedom, not a state religion. Christ is not mentioned in any founding documents. I am VERY tired of a minority of zealous on the right dictating what I should be held to. Many issues today are based on one or a few religious beliefs, but for some reason all should be made to follow these (even when these beliefs are not held by all). This is not correct. These religious beliefs that are being forced on everyone includes woman’s comprehensive health rights and same-sex marriage. Not all beliefs systems are the same and one viewpoint should not be inflected on everyone. I agree with other comments above, why is there a prayer at a government function? If you want to pray, go to church or your office, do no presume everyone is as narrow minded as you are.

    • ANita Newhouse

      Scant religion and lack of education are a potent mix!

    • MSavick

      I suggest you actually read about founders like Thomas Jefferson. Any librarian will assist you. Jefferson had many religious books in his library including the Hebrew Bible and the Koran. This country was founded on religious freedom including defining your own beliefs. The founders understood the religious based conflicts that many early Americans fled Europe to escape and the conflicts that developed in religious based colonies.

  • Hallelujah Bro

    Helper and 3&!cP … it appears you two could use a few prayers. It can’t hurt you, and, you know … just in case. It might save you from being too hot for a very, very long time.

  • JRay

    Prayer if used should be non-denominational. The legislators could also spend some quiet time actually trying to fiigure out how to serve the public.

  • MAJ

    Looks like Mrs Bonoff wants a bit of press. As my grandkids would say, Just suck it up and shut up.

  • Dave Campbell

    What ever happened to separation of church and state? I am a christian but I don’t find it appropriate to pray during the legislative session. If they feel the need to pray, stop by their church on the way to the capitol or do it at home.

    • Trisha

      Dave if you consider yourself a christian then you should have no problem with praying before their seesion. You should be happy that they do that. That kind of comment makes me wonder if you really are a christian because real christians would not make that kind of comment.

      • Anita Newhouse

        Again, scant religion and lack of education make a potent mix!! Stop high-jacking Christianity and imposing your expectations and belief system onto it. If you are not secure enough to accomodate broader views and practice of Christianity than your own, perhaps you are the one who needs to check in with YOUR practice.

        Lack of respect for the religious process of others is the very reason their is so much turmoil on the planet. But, the framers specifically made this a private (ie protected) process and NOT a public (regulated) activity.

  • JRay

    If the prayer time is open to “all” denominations and no restrictions at all are placed upon the speaker (no censorship), what would prevent someone from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster from getting up to spew his saucy rhetoric on all present? He/she could use words like spice, cheese and maybe even basil or oregano and all present would be subject to that unAmerican talk!

  • No room at the inn - boo boo

    CandyLee … oops. You’re partially right. I meant “God” but in my haste my fingers got all tangled up. Now I have a question: Am I the pot and you the kettle or the other way around? I couldn’t find “pharse” in my Funk & Wagnalls. I guess neither of use will be getting a job as typesetters, eh? :-)

  • Think about it

    I would be more concerned if any of the majority in that chamber took the Word of God or Jesus seriously. But, they obviously don’t or they wouldn’t be slashing programs for the poor and sick all just to protect the rich. They’re obviously not listening, so no real harm.

  • No room at the inn - boo boo & boo

    Okay, that was a shot. The editor at ‘cco is misspelling our stuff just to keep it lively.

    “Use,” indeed. You know what I meant, right? …. ummm, or is that “rite?” I duzn’t know.

  • Trisha

    If the chaplin wnat to mention Jesus in his prayer then that is his american right. Grow up Mrs. Bonoff. Jesus was also a jew so you must have not been listening in church all your life. Take a good look at what is happening right. Do you not think God has something to do with it. He is in control. God created the earth and everyone in it. They took God out of the schools and now look at the mess they are in . All we hear about is school shooting. When God was in the school we had no shootings.

    • mordecai, esther's adoptive father

      jesus effing christ, you bloody moron! ms. bonoff is JEWISH — she didn’t go to a stupid church growing up — she probably went to a synagogue (ever heard of one of those? do you know jews don’t go to church!). and your reply to dave campbell was so unchristian — the christ of the bible, at least the one i’m familiar with, doesn’t judge, doesn’t tell others if they’re being a good or bad follower — he is the essence of PURE LOVE & ACCEPTANCE! it makes me think you shouldn’t be allowed to call yourself a true “christian.”
      finally, please refrain from commenting any further; -when your fingersy do the talking your ignorance becomes glaringly obvious. you are one of those people that give christians an ugly name.

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