March 2011 Church & State | AU Bulletin

The Hawaii Senate has become the first state legislative body in the nation to stop its practice of offering daily prayers before each session.

The decision came after a citizen complained to the American Civil Liberties Union that many of the invocations referenced Jesus Christ. A three-member Senate committee met to decide how to incorporate nonsectarian prayers, but the 25-member Senate decided in a voice vote that it was best to do away with the prayers altogether.

“We respect everybody’s different levels of faith and the different religions that they support,” Senate President Shan Tsutsui (D-Kahului), told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “We don’t think by us not having an invocation at the beginning of session –; we’re not making any type of statement, but rather we’re respecting each individual’s religious beliefs.”

Still, some legislators are unhappy about the decision. Nine senators held hands and prayed for God’s blessing in the Senate chamber before the session, despite the Senate’s vote to abandon official invocations.

“The message is that not all senators have eliminated prayer,” Sen. Will Espero told the Associated Press. “We’re well within the confines of the law.”