INDIANAPOLIS | The Republican leaders controlling the Indiana House and Senate schedules will continue starting legislative session days with a prayer, even as the U.S. Supreme Court reviews the constitutionality of the practice.
Both Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said they see no reason to halt prayer in anticipation of the ruling — as the Hammond City Council has done — because they expect the nation's high court will reaffirm the legitimacy of prayer during government meetings.
"I hope they follow past precedent and also the long history and tradition that we have in this country and in this state of allowing free speech in the public square," Bosma said. "It's not about religion, it's about free speech."
But the case before the nine justices is entirely about religion and the consistently Christian prayers offered at meetings of the Greece, N.Y., Town Board.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in May 2012 that the practice suggests an "official affiliation with a particular religion," in violation of the U.S. Constitution's ban on the establishment of a state religion. A Supreme Court ruling is expected by June 2014.
In a similar 2005 case, the overtly Christian and often proselytizing prayers in the Indiana House were deemed unconstitutional by an Indianapolis federal judge. A federal appeals court threw out that decision by finding the four plaintiffs were not sufficiently harmed to bring a lawsuit.
During Wednesday's special session of the Indiana General Assembly, the House heard an especially Christian prayer by Matt Barnes of Capitol Commission Indiana, an organization that describes itself as "committed to making disciples of Jesus Christ in the capitol communities of the world."
Barnes specifically thanked God "for sending your son to demonstrate goodness and service with the selfless act of giving his life for ours" and likened Christ's death to the sacrifices of U.S. soldiers.
Long said he sees no problem with mostly Christian prayers at the Statehouse, because other faiths are also represented.
"I don't think that anything we do violates any constitutional rights of anyone," Long said. "In fact, we bring in different denominations to make sure all denominations are represented during the prayer and we make a careful effort to do that."
Bosma said it would be a bigger constitutional misstep for a government official to restrict what a speaker could say during a prayer.
State lawmakers who object to the daily prayer typically delay their entry into the House or Senate chamber until the prayer is completed.