This column by ACRU Senior Fellow Robert Knight was published January 25, 2011 on The Washington Times website.
In the state where pagan natives once threw people off cliffs to placate the gods, the Hawaiian state Senate has voted to end the practice of opening its sessions with prayer.
It’s probably just silly Internet prattle that some of the more intemperate civil liberties advocates want to follow this up by throwing pastors into Kilauea, the volcano home of the fire goddess Pele.
The Jan. 21 vote came after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) threatened to sue because of a single complaint by Mitch Kahle, founder of Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church.
The sticking point is that some speakers invoke Jesus, which sends the ACLU into a bout of “separation of church and state anxiety syndrome.” It seems that they are functionally “anti-Christ.”
The phrase “separation of church and state,” of course, appears nowhere in the U.S. Constitution and was derived from a Jan. 1, 1802, letter by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury, Conn., Baptist Association assuring them that no particular Christian denomination would be declared a state religion. The liberal U.S. Supreme Court picked up on this nearly a century-and-a-half later and concocted an extraconstitutional doctrine that the ACLU has wielded like a pineapple scythe against public religious symbols or prayers.
During the period he sent the letter, Jefferson attended weekly Christian services held in the House of Representatives. No historical text as far as I know includes references during those services to Pele or to Buddha or even to Islam. Frequent mention, however, was made of Jesus Christ, since the overwhelming majority of the Founders and the legislators at the time were professing Christians.
According to the Associated Press, the Hawaii Senate is the first state Senate to ban prayer. In 2008, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a 2005 ruling by U.S. District Judge David Hamilton that had barred the Indiana House from mentioning Jesus in opening prayers.
President Obama then appointed Judge Hamilton to the same court that had overturned Judge Hamilton’s ruling, and the U.S. Senate confirmed him 59-39 on Nov. 19, 2009. The sole Republican “yes” vote? Indiana’s own Sen. Richard G. Lugar.
The ACLU’s determination to silence prayer in the Hawaii Senate chamber contrasts with their own indifference in 2009, when the Hawaii Senate approved a resolution declaring Sept. 24, 2009, to be “Islam Day” on a 22-3 vote. The Senate’s mighty Republican bloc of two rejected it, along with a single Democrat who worried about church-state separation.
When legislators celebrate Islam, that’s “multiculturalism.” When they allow individuals to pray according to their own faiths, that’s unconstitutional establishment of religion. It makes perfect sense if you think about it long enough to make your head hurt.
On Jan. 21, the GOP Hawaii Senate bloc of one – Sam Slom – argued for making prayers voluntary, rather than getting rid of them entirely. “As intelligent as we may be, we can still call on someone higher to help us and guide us,” he argued in vain, ignoring the evidence that his assessment of the legislators’ collective IQ might be, well, overly generous.
Perhaps the Hawaii Senate could get around the whole thing by opening legislative sessions with invocations to Pele. They could call it a celebration of the Aloha State’s cultural heritage, and blunt ACLU objections by insisting they are referring to a currently famous person instead of the volcanic deity.
They could even present Pele with a commemorative soccer ball. That might appease him.