Speaker Brian Bosma's decision to end, for now, formal prayers to open the start of House sessions is a reasonable move in light of a federal court ruling that banned the name Jesus Christ from official invocations. Legislators instead are gathering on their own time to pray before the session begins. Bosma wisely chose not to defy Judge David Hamilton's ruling while the case is under appeal. Even leaders of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, which launched the lawsuit, say the prayer huddle is within bounds of the Constitution.
While the "huddle at the back of the chamber prayer" may be legal, it is completely absurd and a slap in the face of the legislators who don't feel comfortable participating in this "Christian prayer display." A reasonable move would have been to continue the practice, but with non-sectarian prayers, as the Senate intends to do and as does every other legislature in the country.
To add further insult to injury, the Star editorial blames the plaintiffs who brought the lawsuit rather than Bosma for the controversy:
One of the sloppier arguments raised by critics of Statehouse prayers is that Christian conservatives serving in the legislature are wasting time by continuing to debate the issue. It wasn't conservatives who brought this fuss to the forefront. Even the harshest critics should acknowledge that important questions about freedom of speech and religion have been raised. One side can't expect to start an argument, then try to shut it down when others object to their actions.
It is under Speaker Bosma's short tenure as Speaker that this problem arose. He chose to invite clergy who used their prayer time to turn the House of Representatives into the "Old Time Gospel Hour," which several Christian and non-Christian lawmakers, lobbyists and citizens rightfully found to be a constitutional violation of the separation of church. It was completely within Speaker Bosma's power to take steps to avoid the lawsuit which ensued, but he instead chose a political course to ensure a legal fight. He even went so far as to have his name inserted into the titled caption for the case so that any references to the case for historical purposes would identify him individually with the case.
As we previously reported, Bosma is already using the prayer case in fundraising solicitation letters to supporters. And today, reports surface at Taking Down Words that House Republicans have been filming the prayer ordeal at the State House this week, presumably for use in political advertisements.
So why are the Star editorial writers apologizing for Bosma? Because of the lawsuit two former disgruntled employees brought against the newspaper, which alleges that the Star management discriminated against them because of their Christian religious beliefs. Although the EEOC found no basis for the claim, conservative gadfly lawyer John Price, an adviser to the American Family Association of Indiana, brought the suit on their behalf to advance the Christian right's agenda of changing the editorial content of the Star. Until the Star puts the lawsuit behind it, its editorial writers have been walking on pins and needles to avoid offending the religious right. Today's editorial is another example of that duplicity.