AU Protests Sectarian Prayers At Minnesota Senate

After a controversial invocation that left some legislators fuming, Americans United has urged Minnesota Senate leaders to abolish the practice of opening sessions with official prayer.

On March 14, Dennis Campbell, pastor of the Granite City Baptist Church in St. Cloud, gave an invocation, in which he intoned, “We pray, Lord, that you help us show reverence to the Lord Jesus Christ.” He noted that “Jesus said, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life’” and concluded “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ our savior, we pray.”

The sectarian invocation offended religious minorities in the legislature and has led several members to seek a change in policy.

State Sen. Terry Bonoff (D-Minnetonka) has asked Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch to change an advisory letter for all visiting chaplains to say that they are “required” rather than “requested” to make prayers nondenominational. Several Jewish senators are backing Bonoff’s request, but she has been met with resistance.

“I believe we don’t have a right to censor their prayers,” said Sen. David Brown.

AU’s March 21 letter reminds Senate leaders that they have the duty to make all citizens feel welcome. It noted that the Supreme Court has allowed prayers to open legislative sessions only if they are non-sectarian and non-proselytizing.

“Because the Senate is designed to represent all Minnesota residents, regardless of faith,” wrote AU, “we urge you to refrain from opening future sessions with any type of prayer. If the Senate does continue to open meetings with prayers, however, the Constitution requires you to ensure that they do not advance any particular religion.”

AU’s letter was signed by AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan, AU Litigation Counsel Gregory M. Lipper and AU Staff Attorney Ian Smith.