House opens session with prayer by controversial pastor, DFL protests

From MPR’s Elizabeth Dunbar and Tom Scheck…

The House opened its floor session today with a prayer by a pastor who has frequently spoken out against gays. The House could take up a vote today on sending a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage before voters in 2012.

Bradlee Dean of Old Path Church of Minneapolis and founder of You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International ministry was the guest chaplain for the opening prayer. During his prayer, he questioned President Barack Obama’s commitment to Jesus.

“I know this is a non-denominational prayer in this chamber, it’s not about the Baptists, it’s not about the Catholics alone, or the Lutherans or the Wesleyans or the Presbyterians or Evangelicals but rather the head of the denomination, and his name is Jesus — as every president up until 2008 has acknowledged, and we pray it in Jesus’ name,” Dean said.

Note: You can watch video of the prayer and reaction on the House Archives page.

DFL House members were quick to express outrage over Dean’s comments, and House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, restarted the floor session with another prayer by the regular House chaplain.

In a speech on the House floor following the second prayer, Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, expressed anger over Dean’s appearance.

“I’ve always thought of the House prayer as an opportunity for us to contemplate together, to come together before the heat and battle of what can sometimes be partisan politics. It was an expectation, it was a hope that I felt was fulfilled every day I came to this chamber until today. Within the last hour this hope has been crushed by a single person’s words,” Morrow said.

Morrow thanked Zellers for restarting, saying it was “an acknowledgement that there is a legitimate cause for deep concern.”

Zellers and Rep. Matt Dean, R-Delwood, said after the House recessed that they were not involved in scheduling Bradlee Dean to open the floor session.

UPDATE: House Speaker Kurt Zellers just issued this:

STATEMENT FROM SPEAKER ZELLERS DENOUNCING MORNING PRAYER

I respectfully apologize to all members in the Minnesota House of Representatives and all citizens of this state for today’s morning prayer. As Speaker of the House, I take responsibility for this mistake. I am offended at the presence of Bradlee Dean on the floor of the Minnesota House of Representatives. I denounce him, his actions and his words. He does not represent my values or the values of this state.

Meanwhile, the two openly gay members of the Legislature DFLers Rep. Karen Clark and Sen. Scott Dibble, both of Minneapolis, issued this:

“In my 30 years in the House, I have never seen such a hateful person be allowed to deliver the opening prayer,” Rep. Clark said. “Bradlee Dean has a documented record of hate speech, and has suggested that extremists who call for the execution of American gays are morally justified. The decision by GOP leadership to allow his intolerance, fear and outright bigotry into the ‘people’s house’ is reprehensible. Minnesotans are a peaceful, loving and caring people. It’s this spirit of togetherness and shared hope that the House of Representatives should strive to embody. The Republican leadership should be ashamed of themselves. It reveals the underlying hateful nature of the anti-gay constitutional amendment movement.”

“In this time of divisiveness, it’s disgraceful and appalling to see the Speaker of the House of Representatives ‑‑ the body that is supposed to represent all Minnesotans ‑‑ invite hatred into the opening prayer,” Sen. Dibble, a former House member said. “Instead of providing a message of inclusion and hope, the House began this day with hate and discrimination. Mr. Dean has a long and well-known record of intolerance, something that should have no place in the legislature, let alone in a prayerful blessing. This morning’s action is a sad commentary on House Republican leadership’s apparent ambivalence for supporting the equal rights and beliefs of all Minnesotans.”

Two people with knowledge of the decision say Rep. Ernie Leidiger, R- Mayer, invited Bradlee Dean to give the House prayer.

Rep. Ernie Leidiger, R-Mayer, confirmed that he invited Dean to give the House prayer. He said it was “an honest mistake” that Dean was invited on the same day that the constitutional amendment to ban same marriage could have been debated.

Leidiger said he invited Dean after seeing him deliver a speech on constitutional issues at a school. He said a colleague of Dean followed up on the request. Leidiger says he was scheduled to speak a few weeks ago but it was rescheduled for today. He said he didn’t know about Dean’s views until a colleague told him about Dean’s background after Dean gave the prayer.

Leidiger says he doesn’t hold Dean’s views.

“I don’t go there at all,” Leidiger said. “I believe in life. I believe in everyone having opportunity and that’s not where any of the members agree with his stance. That radical stance that I understand is about as radical as it can get.”

Leidiger says he’s apologized to several Democrats including DFL Rep. Karen Clark of Minneapolis. Clark is the only openly gay member of the Legislature House.

Leidiger says he still supports the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. He said he doesn’t believe the amendment has “nothing to do with gays. It’s all about a statement on what marriage is.”

Here’s my short interview with him: