Politics, prayers and press releasesLaura McPhee
Indiana Speaker of the House Brian Bosma is the defendant in a lawsuit brought by the Indiana Civil Liberties Union (ICLU) that had its first hearing last week at the Federal Courthouse. The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction to stop the habit of opening House sessions in the Indiana General Assembly with Come to Jesus prayers. But Bosma isn't limiting the case to a court of law. In a flurry of press releases and press conferences, he's begun taking his case to the court of public opinion - banking on the combination of political rhetoric, religious paranoia and a general laziness for fact-checking to cast him in the highly-electable role of political and religious martyr.
According to Bosma, the ICLU has singled him out. Every relevant press release from his office states some version of the phrase: "Speaker of the House Brian C. Bosma who is named as the defendant in the lawsuit."
Others put it in their own words. "The legal action targets House Speaker Brian Bosma, A Republican and a Christian," states WorldNetDaily.com, a Christian on-line news service.
But the truth is that the ICLU never named Brian Bosma in their lawsuit. In fact, the plaintiffs filed suit against the Office of Speaker of the House, whose duty it is to preside over House sessions.
After the case was filed, Bosma made the extraordinary motion of asking to be personally listed as the defendant on the caption of the case. The court granted his petition, and Bosma is now listed as the defendant - at his own request.
Bosma's office also continues to say that this lawsuit is against prayers "... that mention or refer to Jesus Christ."
And this myth is beginning to gain credence. "Christians are being targeted. The ICLU won't be happy until the name of Jesus Christ is never even uttered again in this country," writes one Christian Web site about the case.
But court documents reveal that what the plaintiffs (all four of whom are Christian) actually object to is the government-sponsored Christianity that occurs when pastors and legislators open nearly every single House session with a prayer to Jesus Christ the Savior or the equivalent, excluding all other faiths.
In April, after a prayer that included the statement, "I thank you Jesus for dying for me," Bosma announced that the visiting minister was "going to bless [the House of Representatives] with a song." The minister then proceeded to sing "Just A Little Talk With Jesus" and legislators and onlookers were prompted to stand, clap and sing along.
Just before Easter, the House of Representatives began its session with the prayer, "Those of us that are of the Christian faith, we thank you for the sacrifice that this weekend will represent. We thank you especially for what Sunday represents, resurrection and new life."
On a different occasion, the House prayer concluded, "Now Lord, we ask it in your Son's name, Lord of Lord, King of Kings, Jesus Christ, who gave us the most precious gift - to die on the cross for our sins."
Of the 45 prayers for which transcripts are available, the overwhelming majority are no different from those heard on any given Sunday in any given Christian church.
And so the ICLU's case is simple. "We are not asking the speaker to review the prayers and we're not asking the speaker to censor anyone," explains attorney Ken Falk. "The speaker needs to go on record as having a policy that comports with the First Amendment."
Ironically, that policy already exists - every guest who gives an opening prayer is sent a letter from the Indiana speaker of the House with instructions that the prayers should be non-denominational. Speaker Bosma just refuses to enforce his own policy.
While public prayer is traditional and legal, government cannot endorse or advance one religion over any other - that's what the First Amendment says, and that's what the Supreme Court has ruled.
But Bosma doesn't see it that way, and why should he?
With the help of religious zealots and lazy reporters, the speaker of the House has enough savvy to cast himself in the role of a political and religious martyr and ride the tide of support all the way to Election Day - win or lose in the court of law.