No atheist or church/state separation group is directly involved in this story.
But the fact that such groups exist is a major part of it.
In the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Rep. Will Tallman asked his pastor Rev. Gerry Stoltzfoos to deliver a “non-denominational prayer” to open the House’s legislative session. Stoltzfoos submitted a draft of the prayer to the House Speaker:
“… I wrote it out and sent it to them. They said my prayer was rejected because it contained an offensive word. Just once, in closing, I mentioned Jesus.”
It’s true. The end of the prayer was “In Jesus’ name, Amen.” Clearly, Stoltzfoos doesn’t understand the meaning of “non-denominational.”
Instead of changing the last line of his prayer, he whined and quit:
“I was incredibly surprised,” he said. “I thought they were kidding. I had carefully crafted the prayer not to be offensive in any way.”
After being told he couldn’t use Jesus’ name, the Rev. Stoltzfoos said he decided not to say the prayer at all rather than omit the name of his Lord and Savior.
“OK, that’s fine, I’m not the guy for this,” he said.
The prayer’s not offensive at all… unless you’re delivering it to Hindus, Jews, atheists, Muslims, or Tom Cruise.
So why did the Speaker request the change?
“I think my pastor was protected by the First Amendment, but [House Speaker] Keith [McCall] thinks he has a legitimate concern about lawsuits” that could be filed over mixing religion with public business, Mr. Tallman said.
No one is kicking Jesus out of anything. The House is just correctly not promoting any one particular belief over another. To allow one religion’s deity to be glorified would open the floodgates for everyone else (though the PA Senate does allow for this). McCall made the right call. His policy works:
Now, a letter from Mr. McCall is sent to prospective guest chaplains, asking them to use “an interfaith, non-denominational prayer” and to refrain from expressing views on legislative, political or governmental issues before or during the prayer.”
Saying “God” or “Father” is permissible in the House, but its officials still don’t want pastors to mention specific religious figures, such as Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha or others.
Frankly, I find “God” and “Father” to be offensive, too — it’s like saying “the N-word” instead of “nigger” — both mean the same thing, but one is allowed while the other is taboo. “God” and “Father” are both not-so-subtle ways of letting people like me know I’m not welcome in PA.
Still, I guess it’s a small step forward that mentions of specific Gods aren’t allowed.
(Thanks to Matthew for the link!)