ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — House Speaker Kurt Zellers apologized in a rare floor speech Friday after the House session opened with a prayer by a central Minnesota pastor who took a veiled swipe at President Barack Obama and has previously made derogatory remarks about gay people.
The prayer came on a day when the House was scheduled to possibly debate a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
“Earlier today there was a prayer given by a man I personally denounce,” said Zellers, a Maple Grove Republican. He was speaking from the House floor, which speakers rarely do.
“Members, I can only ask for your forgiveness,” Zellers said. He said he failed in his responsibility to ensure “the decorum and the dignity of this body.”
The pastor, Bradlee Dean, leads an Annandale evangelical ministry known as “You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International.” In an interview last year, he called homosexuals predators and molesters. In his prayer Friday, Dean made numerous direct references to Jesus Christ and Christianity, in violation of House custom on prayers.
Prior to Dean’s prayer, the House had been expected to debate and vote Friday on an amendment that would put the question of whether to ban gay marriage in the state Constitution to a statewide vote in 2012. The House vote is the amendment’s last stop before the ballot, and the possibility of a House vote had in recent days drawn loud protests outside the House chamber on both sides of the debate.
The House must adjourn its regular session by midnight Monday, and social conservative groups have been lobbying the Republican majority to act on the amendment before then.
A spokeswoman for Zellers said after the prayer flap that she didn’t know whether the gay marriage vote would still happen Friday.
Any of the 134 House members are able to invite religious leaders to deliver opening prayers. Zellers spokeswoman Jodi Boyne said that Rep. Ernie Leidiger, R-Mayer, invited Dean and that Zellers and House staff did not vet the choice.
Boyne also distributed a copy of a letter to Dean from the House Chief Clerk’s office asking that opening prayers be “interfaith and ecumenical” and that they should not be “advocating a political position on issues or ideologies.”
Dean’s prayer openly flouted that request. “I know this is a non-denominational prayer in this chamber,” Dean said in his prayer. He then recited a litany of Christian denominations, and said he was not advocating any of those faiths “but rather the head of the denomination and his name is Jesus. As every president up until 2008 has acknowledged.”
After the prayer, Zellers instructed the regular House chaplain to pray again. Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, rose to bemoan the contents of the first prayer. “Some of you who are standing near me can see I’m shaking right now because I’m mad,” Morrow said.
Dean did not immediately return a call seeking comment left at his ministry’s office. Leidiger did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
It’s the second time in the current legislative session that the content of an opening prayer has been contentious. In March, several Senate Democrats objected after a St. Cloud-area evangelical minister delivered a prayer with numerous direct references to Jesus.
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