Sooner Prejudice: Oklahoma Legislators Protest Gay Minister's Prayer

Governmental bodies shouldn't be opening sessions with prayer, period.

Religion is a controversial thing, isn't it? Especially when it occurs in a political or governmental context.

Exhibit A today is the flap over a minister's opening prayer at the Oklahoma House.

The Rev. Scott Jones' sentiments yesterday were pretty noncontroversial, as such invocations go. He asked the "holy and everlasting God" to "give us the courage to dream new dreams; to see new possibilities." He prayed that "these elected representatives" be given "courage and wisdom that they might be instruments of your peace."

But according to The Oklahoman, when Rep. Al McAffrey moved that the prayer be recorded in the House Journal, Rep. John Wright objected and demanded a recorded vote. The roll was called, and the prayer prevailed with 64 yes votes. But 20 legislators voted no, and another 16 bolted for the door to keep from voting.

What could have provoked such a reaction? Is Rep. Wright a militant atheist who objects to all prayers? Were the other 35 legislators hard-line church-state separationists who think legislative prayers violate the First Amendment?

Don't be silly. This is Oklahoma.

Wright and Company objected not to legislative prayer, but rather to the pray-er – Pastor Jones. They didn't like Jones because he is gay, and so are many of his flock, the Cathedral of Hope, a United Church of Christ congregation in Oklahoma City.

As you might expect, Rep. Sally Kern, the self-proclaimed Oklahoma "culture warrior" who once said homosexuality is a greater threat to the United States than terrorism, was among the no votes.

The protest, in short, was nothing but an expression of bigotry against a gay minister.

The Americans United Oklahoma Chapter is releasing a statement today on the incident.

Among other things, it says: "It is unacceptable for legislators to demonstrate official favoritism among religions based on their personal religious biases in the public chamber of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

"This legislative behavior of a minority of House members brings embarrassment to Oklahoma," the statement continues. "This was an official political action based upon individual religious viewpoints.

"As advocates of church-state separation," the AU chapter concludes, "we believe it would be best for the Oklahoma legislature to forgo opening prayers entirely. But if the practice is to be continued, the invocations must be nonsectarian and there must be no discrimination against those offering the prayers."

That's the bottom line, isn't it?

Governmental bodies shouldn't be opening sessions with prayer, period. If the prayer is too sectarian, controversy erupts. If it's too political, trouble ensues. And for some people, prayer is just too sacred to be misused as little more than ceremonial trappings for a government event.

But if legislators forge ahead and schedule invocations, our Constitution demands that they must not favor one religious tradition over others. A gay minister has just as much right to offer a prayer as Sally Kern's Baptist preacher husband.

Can I get an Amen for equality, civility and the Constitution?