Judge Bans 'Jesus' From Indiana House of Reps

Prayers in Jesus’ name are now forbidden in official opening prayers at the Indiana House of Representatives, following a decision by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge David Hamilton ruled that Christian prayer violates the establishment of religion clause in the constitution.

"This is an intolerable decision I hope cannot stand," said Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, according to the Indianapolis Star. He was named as a defendant in the suit.

Bosma was ordered by the judge to instruct the clergy that prayers must not proselytize or advance or disparage any faith or belief, noting specifically that "Christ's name" or any other “denominational appeal” were also out of bounds.

In his court opinion, Hamilton wrote that the “official prayers” offered at the Indiana House “consistently advance the beliefs that define the Christian religion.”

In the 2005 House session, 53 prayers were offered by people identified with Christian churches, wrote Hamilton in his decision. Of the 45 transcripts available, 29 offered the prayer in the name of Jesus, the Savior and/or the Son.

"We look forward to the day when all nations and all people of the earth will have the opportunity to hear and respond to messages of love of the Almighty God who has revealed Himself in the saving power of Jesus Christ," read one prayer given at the House.

The debate over more neutral forms of prayer in government run institutions is also taking place in the Air Force academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. Recent guideline changes there also included anti-proselytism prayer restrictions.

Chaplains in the Air Force were told earlier this year that they could not pray in Christ’s name during certain official gatherings. In response, over 70 congressional representatives signed a letter last month asking President Bush to issue an executive order to tell the Air Force to take back its guidelines. Online, over a hundred thousand people have signed a similar petition through the American Center for Law and Justice website.

"This is a terrible decision, and I’m honestly shocked,” said Bosma, according to the Courier-Journal of Kentucky. “It goes much further than any court really in the nation has in dictating the content of free speech, especially here in the House where free speech is held in such high regard.

Ken Falk, an attorney with the Indiana Civil Liberties Unions who filed the suit on behalf of four Indiana residents, said that a speaker in an official capacity at the state house should not endorse a particular religion.

The Indianapolis Star reports that the suit was triggered after an incident where one minister led representatives gathered in the chamber in singing "Just a Little Talk with Jesus." Some members walked out of the chamber.

"When a human being steps forward to the speaker's pulpit and ascends those stairs, that person is now the state of Indiana," Falk told the Courier-Journal. "As the state of Indiana, that person must be inclusive and cannot endorse any one religious faith or belief."

Falk had argued that a constant use of sectarian prayers amounted to an endorsement of religion.

In 1983, the Supreme Court noted that prayers had been used to open sessions of government bodies consistently for over 200 years, adding that prayers can't promote one religion over another or disparage any other religion and that the prayers could not be used to proselytize.

Bosma said that prayers from other faiths are not prevented in the House and are accorded their free speech rights. He added that he and his attorneys would review legal options, including an appeal.