Let’s start with this: The Legislature is no place for proselytizing. Nor is it a place to invoke a sectarian deity that might make others present feel excluded.

Such statements are divisive and do not fulfill the goal of a religious invocation in a pluralistic society.

But there is, we believe, a benefit that comes from public reflection at the start of a session of the Hawaii state Senate or House that should not be abandoned just because of a threat of a lawsuit.

An invocation is a formal way to separate what happens on the floor of both houses from day-to-day political life, to elevate the perspective of lawmakers and to encourage them to consider the greater good when debating matters of public policy.

Despite the claims of a group that has sued the Hawaii Legislature, legislative invocations are not unconstitutional. Even the ACLU concedes that point.

Yet the Hawaii Senate has ended the practice, becoming the first legislative body in the nation to do so. The House may follow suit.

They’re going too far.

Civil Beat reporter Chad Blair recounted well what led up to the Senate’s decision. He also shared the perspective of a scholar on First Amendment issues.

Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center told him: “We’re always going to be fighting, with one side wanting it to be a little bit more prayer and the other side, wanting it to be a little less prayer. So there’s no real good answer to that except meaningless prayers that, as I say, leave everybody feeling unsatisfied.”

While we can’t say how long invocations will be the spark for fights, we are confident that the prayers do not need to leave everybody feeling unsatisfied.

Take these words delivered last April by Suzanne Marinelli, who runs the Public Access Room at the Capitol:

for every vexing problem,
every thing that seems impossible,
every hopeless situation,

there deep within,

the answers are alive and well,

simply waiting,

in their stillness,

to be found.

These words give encouragement and seem to open the difficult work of legislators to possibilities they may not yet have considered. They ask them to go beyond the obvious, to not act hastily.

The U.S. Supreme Court in its 1983 decision that framed how the law applies to invocations did not call for God to be kicked out of our deliberative chambers. There’s no need for either the Senate or the House to do so today.

Follow Civil Beat on Facebook and Twitter. You can also sign up for Civil Beat’s free daily newsletter.

About the Author