February 2004 Church & State | AU Bulletin

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has urged Maryland state lawmakers to stop their practice of opening Senate sessions with sectarian invocations.

In a Dec. 8 letter to members of the Senate Special Commission on Legislative Prayer, Americans United called on the Senate to create a policy that respects the First Amendment.

AU Legal Director Ayesha Khan noted that the Supreme Court has allowed legislative prayer, but that the justices have maintained that "legislative prayer is permissible only insofar as it is not sectarian (i.e., it does not use language or symbols particular to one particular type of religion)."

Maryland Senate sessions have traditionally commenced with prayer, and during the last session, several clergy and other guests invoked the name of Jesus, according to an October report in The Baltimore Sun. Some senators complained about those prayers, which prompted the creation of the commission to study the practice.

AU's Khan said the best solution to the controversy is to discontinue invocations altogether.

"As a matter of policy, the practice of legislative prayer raises grave concerns," Khan wrote. "We live in a nation increasingly populated by both believers and non-believers. Indeed, approximately fourteen percent of Americans do not subscribe to any religion and many more are adherents of religions outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition."