Republicans in the Minnesota Senate tried unsuccessfully today to give visiting clergy members greater leeway in the prayers they offer at the beginning of floor sessions.
The proposed amendment to the permanent Senate Rules failed by a vote of 25-36.
Senate guidelines call for interfaith prayers that respect the religious diversity. They also request that clergy do not proselytize or disparage other beliefs. But Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville, argued that those guidelines are too restrictive. Hall, who is also a minister, said guest clergy should be allowed to pray as they please and in accordance with their own religious tradition.
“Many clergy have been invited here by members and have felt their religious liberties and their freedom of speech have been denied,” Hall said. “Clergies are asked or suggested that they do not use their deity’s name when giving a prayer.”
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said the current guidelines were crafted to be on solid legal ground. He warned against changes.
“If we make this change we land ourselves in court by somebody who wants to challenge it,” Bakk said.
Jewish members of the Senate also raised concerns. Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, said prayers that exclude minority religions are not appropriate for the Senate floor. He also rejected Hall’s religious liberty argument.
“It’s a question of simple courtesy,” Cohen said.