Brian Egolf, speaker of the state House of Representatives, has done something that might be politically incorrect but is sure to be popular with his members.

Egolf, D-Santa Fe, no longer is using public money to pay bishops, rabbis, priests and preachers to deliver a prayer in the House as it begins its daily floor session.

Now, House members themselves will give the invocation. All of them will offer the same message, give or take several useless adverbs.

Whether Democrat or Republican, the politician in solemn tones will ask for wisdom, divine guidance and the strength to work with political foes for the good of mankind.

This system gives House members another chance to speak before a captive audience. It suits them. After all, they’re politicians.

But, truth be told, Egolf’s revamped policy will have little or no change on the content of prayers spoken in the House of Representatives.

I’ve spent years covering political banquets, City Council meetings and legislative sessions. Each time a member of the clergy gave a prayer, he or she asked a higher power to grant everyone wisdom, divine guidance and the strength to work with rivals for the greater good.

Rarely does anyone in these forums say a prayer that’s daring or memorable. The messenger sticks to generalities, then pockets a fee or sits down to enjoy dinner with the politicians.

It would have been inspired for a clergyman to face the House of Representatives and say something like this: “Thank you, almighty one, for the freedom of speech we enjoy in this great country. I am using my First Amendment rights this morning to encourage these legislators to stop wasting time on message bills, on self-aggrandizing speeches that they intend to repackage as campaign ads, and on ubiquitous, tree-killing measures that change nothing or have no force of law.

“Omnipotent one, help these lawmakers be conscientious enough to stop introducing bills written by lobbyists for one industry or another. Encourage them to be industrious enough to examine the real-life effects of proposed legislation before pushing something, just so they can brag about passing a bill.

“Challenge our legislators to do arduous work by educating themselves on the state budget. They should debate this elephantine document until a thousand questions have been answered and all the pork has been excised. All powerful one, you know better than the rest of us that legislators usually rubber stamp this important bill without bothering to dig into details. Impress on them the value of changing their lazy ways.”

Legislators will tell you political speech, harsh or mild, has no place in the daily prayer. This is an odd position.

Every minute of the day during a legislative session reeks with politics and attempts to influence lawmakers.

It starts in the morning with the gifts that companies or institutions place on the desk of every legislator. It doesn’t end until lobbyists have picked up the dinner bill, including drinks and dessert.

A preacher who mentioned abortion or fracking would have changed a total of zero votes in the Legislature. Each member has received an earful on these topics. One more appeal from a member of the clergy wouldn’t matter to them.

Legislators are more susceptible to embracing a different position after someone has donated a few thousand dollars to their reelection campaign, or if a swell of voters demands action on something.

Clergymen who want a voice in public policy would have to be brave enough to tell their own congregation they oppose aggression that could cause war with Iran, or that city hall must see to it that older people and those laboring in low-paying service jobs have the opportunity to rent an affordable apartment.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1962 outlawed state-organized prayer in public schools. That was a good decision. Not every child practices the same religion or any religion. The state shouldn’t be promoting any one faith on publicly funded campuses.

Too bad government chambers are different. Organized prayer continues in state legislatures and city halls.

Speaking the words is perfunctory. As members of Parliament might say, changing hearts and minds is another kettle of fish.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

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(12) comments

Chris Mechels

Milan continues to avoid any meaningfull, or even useful, information. His cup is empty.

Khal Spencer

Amen, Milan. Amen.

Diane Denish

More proof Milan has nothing meaningful to write about.....

Khal Spencer

Pot calling the kettle, Diane?

Prince Michael Jauregui

It is, truly, a rare occasion when I thoroughly disagree with your

most-often logical and powerful observations, Mr. Simonich.

Still, this column brings to mind a coincidental meeting -or Divine appointment?-

with a respected, veteran journalist I met nearly a decade ago at the N.M.

State Capitol Building. Be sure, he was given a rare signed-copy of the

epic and historic "Declaration of 2008".

Overstand, -if you will- from The Nina, The Pinta and The Santa Maria to

Plymouth Rock, to The First Continental Congress to President Washington's

prayer on The Potomac, the vital importance and history of prayer in this

nation, and especially New Mexico cannot be understated. After all, the first

Thanksgiving on this continent was celebrated by the party of Don Juan de Onate

of the banks of the Rio Grande - near Las Cruces. While, the false and misleading phrase of "The Separation of Church and State" is not found in any official

U.S. document, rather, in a collection of personal letters by Thomas Jefferson.

Consequently, -and horrifically- the innocent children at Columbine, Sandy Hook and

Stoneman Douglas didn't have a prayer.

Confirming, one of the biggest deceptions ever perpetrated:

We're from the U.S. Government, and we're here to help you.

Khal Spencer

True, the "wall of separation" was in Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists.

But I think that mandatory prayer recited out of a public school sanctioned script violated the establishment clause, i.e., the choice of prayer was what the school decided rather than the individual. A watered down prayer that didn't include Judeo-Christian aspects but more of a "dear mighty creator in the sky, etc." was kinda meaningless. A moment of silence could be whatever you wanted it to be, including a moment of silence.

What our school did do was allow those kids who wanted religion, or who were "volun-told" by their parents to want religion, to be excused to be bused to religious instruction and back. Good compromise. Or, they could go to a religious school such as St. John's, run by the local Catholic Church.

As far as the legislators? Indeed, maybe what we need is a confessional: "Father, I have sinned by ignoring my constituents and pushing a bill on behalf of the lobbyist who gave me a $2,500 dollar check as a quid pro quo to push through his bill come Hades or High Water".

Prince Michael Jauregui

Khal, I'll take the bait.

First, I' establish Truth and work from there:

This nation was inspired, established and built upon Judeo-Christian

precepts - and persons. This, is an immutable and indisputable fact.

While I can wholly understand -thanks to Corporate Christianity- the

resistance to true Christianity in the last 50-years in "America", this

does not minimize -again- the inherent Judeo-Christian nature of

the United States. Imagine, a vast and magnificent mansion, built

from the ground-up by mostly one particular group. Then, several

centuries later, other tenants of various persuasions with absolutely no

contribution to the building of the mansion, decide to evict the heirs

of it's owners? A grossly immoral and absolutely absurd premise.

Anyway Khal, years-ago an elderly preacher advised me:

"Prince, when you tell The Truth, son, you gotta tell it all".

So, "And don't call anyone on earth father, you have one Father

and he is in heaven". (The Gospel of St. Matthew 23:9)

Ah, Truth.

Most-often, quite disturbing.

Khal Spencer

No huge disagreement here, MJ. I simply think that in today's world, I would sooner leave religion to the individual or family rather than imprint Big Government's stamp of approval on what kids learn. We are far more diverse than we were in 1787 and frankly, all religion should in my mind be treated as fair game for both devotion and ridicule. My favorite religious teaching? The Blind Men and the Elephant.

Good NY Times piece here from ten years out.

https://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/14/magazine/14texbooks-t.html

Arnold Mayberg

To dream the impossible dream.

Susie Weaver

Amen Milan

Richard Reinders

What is wrong with public prayer in school, doesn't everyone feel religion is part of a good foundation in life . Our society is slowly being dismantled with political correctness and my self personally don't feel we are heading in a better direction.

Khal Spencer

Moment of silence is fine. Required Judeo-Christian prayer? Sorry, its an infringement on my right to not have state sanctioned religion imposed on me.

As a kid, I had to endure public prayer out of the King Jame's Version, which was largely annoying. I much preferred to go to Mass with my Sicilian grandmother. For a while we went to moments of silence, which I could put to better use fantasizing about the girl who sat in front of me in homeroom, who was fond of wearing gossamer miniskirts and see through blouses since she could wear them well.

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