MARC HANSEN • firstname.lastname@example.org • January 13, 2010
Those pesky atheists are at it again. First, they put ads on metro buses telling nonbelievers, "You are not alone."
Now, according to a letter sent to Iowa legislators, they want our elected officials to stop inviting clergy to begin each day of the 2010 session with an official prayer.
Besides violating the separation of church and state, the Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers say, it costs too much. Clergy members receive $10 per prayer and mileage from the home district and back.
The group's president — quoting the House Financial Office — says the state spends $2,606 per session on the prayers. If it seems like walking-around money, even walking-around money is scarce these days.
What's more, during the prayers, the doors to the House and Senate close, meaning clerks, pages, and legislative staff members are held captive.
Monday, Randy Henderson, the head of the group, released a statement saying he has nothing against praying lawmakers — nobody's on the other end of the line to answer them, of course — but as long as they're praying on their own time and not during state business, who cares?
Maybe a few people, but one thing seems certain. When prayers start flying in capitol buildings, somebody usually goes away mad.
If it isn't one group, it's another. If it isn't atheists feeling slighted or offended, it's conservative Christians.
Two years ago this week, Imam Mohamad Khan of Pleasant Hill gave the opening prayer. Khan, a respected horticulturist, asked the almighty to "open the hearts of the legislators and policy-makers" to make the right decisions. No problem there.
He asked for guidance, wisdom and knowledge to solve the difficult problems ahead and eliminate the "senseless crimes on humanity" and help Iowa become a "model to the world."
That's asking a lot, but again no problem. But when Khan said he sought "refuge in God from the accursed Satan" and asked for "victory over those who disbelieve," people starting freaking for no good reason.
To some, the Imam's words were a bit too close to the "great Satan," which to an archetypical jihadist means the United States.
Ako Abdul-Samad, who represents House District 66 in Des Moines, remembers it well. Khan gave the same prayer before and nobody said a word.
This time, words were flying all over the place. It wasn't, as one pastor said, a request to grant Muslims victory over non-Muslims. It wasn't a political statement.
"It was a total misunderstanding," Abdul-Samad said Tuesday. "You really have to reach to take one sentence and flip it like that."
The U.S. Senate begins business with a traditional morning prayer. Three years ago, the first Hindu cleric accepted such an invitation.
"We meditate on the transcendental glory of the deity supreme, who is inside the heart of the Earth, inside the life of the sky and inside the soul of the heaven," the India-born cleric said. "May He stimulate and illuminate our minds."
Three protesters from a Christian group, Opera- tion Save America/Opera- tion Rescue, found the prayer repugnant and tried to shout the speaker down.
The organization put out a statement: "The Senate was opened with a Hindu prayer placing the false god of Hinduism on a level playing field with the one true god, Jesus Christ. This would never have been allowed by our Founding Fathers."
The founding fathers almost always get bandied about during these conversations. Unfortunately, they're hardly ever available for comment.
Abdul-Samad, a Muslim, is in favor of the statehouse prayer. He says it's a good way to start the day, good to see and listen to people of different faiths.
"We owe it to our children to say we might not agree with everyone who comes here, but we're willing to listen and look at our differences," he says. "When you listen to the prayers for an entire session, you notice the differences, but you also notice the underlying similarity."
You might call these isolated incidences. The more the opening prayer gets passed around, though, the more routine the incidences become.
And that's the problem. How do you shuffle prayer privileges without creating a verbal holy war or having people shouting "This is an abomination!" from the gallery?
Maybe you don't. Maybe the pesky atheists have a point.
Someone posted in the comments that they worked for a Jewish senator/representative (can't remember) and it was very uncomfortable for them to be forced to sit through a prayer.
Speaking of the comments, some of them are pure lulzy gold, some of them are totally *headesk-y*. Worth a read though!