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Limits on prayer spark protests in Ind.

Legislature banned from using Jesus' name in invocations

CHICAGO -- A federal judge's order that the Indiana Legislature stop using the name Jesus Christ in its 188-year practice of holding an opening prayer has sparked protests from residents, politicians, and clergy.

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma said yesterday that he will appeal the ruling, which an Indianapolis Star newspaper editorial previously criticized as ''terribly intolerant."

Some pastors are refusing to lead invocation prayers to a ''generic" God in the Legislature, where lawmakers moved to amend the Indiana Constitution this year to prohibit same-sex marriage and may debate next year whether schools must teach ''intelligent design" as an alternative theory to evolution.

''The forces that want to take religious faith out of our government and our society are nibbling away at our liberty," Bosma, a Republican, said of the Nov. 30 ruling by US District Judge David Hamilton in Indianapolis. ''They got a big bite with this one."

Hamilton ordered Bosma as speaker to instruct leaders of the invocation prayer to use non-sectarian words and refrain from using Christ's name, title, or other denominational appeal. Bosma is seeking to have the order suspended, saying it gives the Legislature no clear standard for application.

The Indianapolis Star's Dec. 2 editorial said, ''Hamilton was terribly intolerant of those Christians who believe that their faith instructs them to pray in the name of Jesus Christ." Republican Governor Mitch Daniels said of the ruling: ''It's regrettable."

The criticism crosses party lines. House minority leader Patrick Bauer, 61, a Democrat from South Bend who preceded Bosma as speaker, has said he supports an appeal.

June Adams, 80, a retiree from Williamsburg, 75 miles east of Indianapolis, was one of 13 people quoted in the city of Richmond's Palladium-Item newspaper ''Sound Off" column Dec. 5 on the topic. Twelve of the 13, including Adams, opposed the ruling. ''I don't think Jesus should be taken out of the prayers," Adams said in an interview. ''Our government was founded on freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. It made me angry because Indiana's been considered a pretty conservative state."

Indiana, the 14th most-populous state, with 6.24 million residents, has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1968. About 82 percent of the state identifies itself as Christian and less than 1 percent as Jewish or Muslim, an Indiana University poll in 2004 indicated. Nationwide, 80 percent of US adults identify themselves as Christian, with about 1.7 percent saying they are Jewish, and 0.5 percent Muslim, a study by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago found. Chicago borders Indiana on the northwest.

The Indiana Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit May 31 on behalf of four state residents. The group's legal director, Kenneth Falk, says the lawsuit stemmed from Clarence Brown, a Baptist church elder, singing ''Just a Little Talk With Jesus" after his invocation in the Legislature on April 5.

As Brown sang, legislators and staff clapped and sang, while several people left, offended by what they considered a sectarian religious display, Hamilton's ruling states. Hamilton based his ruling partly on the US Constitution's First Amendment, which prohibits making laws on the establishment or prohibition of religion.

Hamilton ruled that opening prayers, given by volunteers who are often ministers, constitute government speech because the House speaker grants access.

During 2005, Christian clergy led 41 of the 53 prayers that opened House sessions, and 29 of the 45 prayers with transcripts referred to Jesus, Savior, or Son, court documents indicate.

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