HONOLULU — The Hawaii Senate last week silenced prayers previously offered before each of the chamber’s lawmaking sessions.
Fears that the state would be sued over religious practices caused senators on Jan. 20 to pass new rules that delete a sentence requiring an invocation, effectively ending the practice.
The Senate acted on legal advice from the state attorney general’s office that the way it previously handled prayers — by inviting clergy from various religions to give the invocations — wouldn’t survive in court, said Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria.
“Above all, our responsibility is to adhere to the Constitution,” said Galuteria, D-Downtown-Waikiki.
The Senate considered allowing nonsectarian, nonpolitical invocations that avoided references to deities, but the legislative body decided to do away with prayers altogether rather than constrain them.
The action came as the result of a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii that the invocations often included “decidedly Christian prayers — with reference to Jesus Christ.”
“They continue to threaten governments with lawsuits to try to force them into capitulating to their view of society,” said Brett Harvey, an attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, made up of Christian lawyers who defend religious speech. “Governments should take ...