Pa. Senate Prayers Are Too Sectarian, Says AU

The Pennsylvania Senate’s practice of using prayer to open its sessions ignited debate in November, after Americans United for Separation of Church and State noted that many of the invocations are Christian.

In an Oct. 10 letter to state officials, Americans United charged that “one-quarter of the most recent twenty prayers contained sectarian references, and all such sectarian references were to Christianity.”

The group cited federal court precedent that permits legislative prayer but only if it is nonsectarian. Americans United said the best move would be for the Senate to discontinue prayers altogether.

The Senate responded to AU’s letter by claiming its prayer policy is inclusive and that the Senate’s sessions had been opened with prayers from other faith traditions, such as Buddhists, the Harrisburg Patriot-News reported. Senate officials also maintained that it had a policy of requesting that chaplains offer a “brief, interfaith opening prayer.”

In a follow-up letter Nov. 29, Americans United said that it would continue to watch the situation because it appeared that many of the Senate’s prayer givers were not adhering to a non-sectarian policy.

“We will continue to monitor the opening prayers for compliance with the Constitution and your own policy in the hopes that future prayers are both ecumenical and inclusive,” wrote AU Legal Director Ayesha Khan.