- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 22, 2003

ANNAPOLIS Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller tried yesterday to quell a flap over prayers in the legislative chamber invoking the name of Jesus, but some senators disagreed with his approach.
At the morning meeting of the 47-member body, Mr. Miller, Southern Maryland Democrat, distributed copies of a letter that senators are asked to give to members of the clergy whom they invite to say the prayer that begins the daily session.
The letter gives suggestions on how to lead a "public prayer in a pluralistic society," and asks the clergy to "remember that included among our Senate family are individuals who represent many different faiths and walks of life."
Mr. Miller described the prayer as a Senate tradition dating back to Colonial times and said about 90 percent of the time clergy follow the request to be ecumenical. However, the Senate president asked the lawmakers to be tolerant and forgiving of those who get carried away by the moment "and the prayer they've learned since they were 17 comes out."
Some Jewish members of the Senate complained last week to Mr. Miller that prayers including one led by Sen. Larry E. Haines, Carroll County Republican mentioned Jesus three times in the first two weeks of the General Assembly session. Also, a Baptist minister from Baltimore ended his prayer Monday night "in Jesus' name."
Separation of church and state continues to be the source of heated disputes throughout the nation, and yesterday's developments were watched closely by five television cameras many more than would be present for an ordinary Senate session.
After Mr. Miller spoke, Sen. Delores G. Kelley, Baltimore Democrat, stood up to say that his request for inclusive prayers "has not been enough." Mrs. Kelley, a Christian, said some of the prayers have gone beyond religion into "creeds that are ideological with theological underpinnings." She said that if the prayers continue to violate rules, some senators will question whether having the prayers is appropriate at all.
Sen. Sharon Grosfeld, Montgomery County Democrat, also took issue with Mr. Miller's stance, saying he pointed the finger in the wrong direction by asking lawmakers to tolerate prayers that violate the rules rather than addressing the clergy.
"To place the burden on the members, many of whom represent minority religions, is misplacing the obligation for tolerance and respect," she said.
Mrs. Grosfeld, who is Jewish, said she believes it is impossible to control what clergy members say, so prayers should be offered only by senators. She also is pushing for the prayer to be held before the Senate is called to order or before attendance is taken, so senators' presence would be optional. That is how it's done in the House of Delegates, where Mrs. Grosfeld served last year.
"It's not about a particular religion, it's about demonstrating respect for all religions," she said.
While Mrs. Kelley and Mrs. Grosfeld took issue with Mr. Miller's solution, Mr. Haines said he thanked him after yesterday's session. "I think he handled it well," Mr. Haines said.
Mr. Haines, an independent Baptist, explained that he ended his prayer Jan. 15 with the words "in Jesus' name I pray," rather than "in Jesus' name we pray," because he recognizes that not everyone in the Senate holds the same beliefs. When clergy whether they are priests, ministers, rabbis or imams offer prayers to the Senate, Mr. Haines said, they should be permitted to speak freely.
"I think anyone of any faith should not be censored," he said.


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