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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-986-3080.