UPDATE FROM SEN. TERRI BONOFF (DFL-MINNETONKA):
"We have a long-standing Senate tradition of doing opening prayers in the Senate Chamber on session days. This week, a controversial clergyman gave a prayer on the Senate floor that did not follow our Senate tradition that prayer be non-sectarian, so that all feel included. This prompted a response from me. I asked our Senate President to affirm our Senate tradition and use her role to make certain our visiting clergy understand that.
"My statement was countered by a response from a colleague who stated that, while it was Senate tradition, it was not in the rules and therefore was not something that needed to be enforced. Following this exchange, a media flurry ensued that has taken me by surprise. An AP reporter led with an inflammatory headline, “Senator wants Jesus out of the Senate.” That headline garnered the attention of news outlets all over the country, fueled by the fury and power of the internet.
"The issue has been resolved, and we are keeping with our traditions of sending a letter to all clergy requesting that their prayers be non-sectarian. If you followed any version of this story and were left with a sense that I had offended you in some way with regard to your faith, please accept my apology. That was not my intention. I have great reverence for the importance of faith in our lives, in our community and in our world."
ORIGINAL MINNETONKA PATCH MARCH 14 STORY:
A debate over prayer and its place in Minnesota's state Legislature is heating up at the Capitol and it’s Minnetonka’s own state senator, who is at the heart of the fight.
Sen. Bonoff (DFL- District 43/Minnetonka) said on Tuesday that she wants it to be not only a standard policy, but also an enforced rule, that any prayer said in the Senate chamber be non-denominational in nature.
“We have a policy at the Minnesota Senate that says the prayers must be non-denominational [and] I want to make sure that it's crystal clear,” she told Minnetonka Patch on Tuesday.
The move comes less than 24-hours after Baptist pastor Dennis Campbell delivered the standard invocation that opens every Senate and House floor chamber session, during which he referenced Jesus and Christ-concluding the invocation with, "In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ our savior, we pray."
Bonoff immediately responded to the prayer, which she called “inappropriate” and “uncustomary” by publicly calling on President of the Senate Michelle Fischbach (R- District 14/Stearns County) to enforce, going forward, the Senate tradition which restricts any prayer said in the chamber from including specific religious references.
"But she did not affirm that she would do that,” Bonoff said. “She gave a rather weak response.”
Senator David Brown (R- District 16/Becker) emphatically disagreed with Bonoff, telling those present in the Senate chamber, “It’s not in the rules, it’s tradition. And when we invite clergy to pray, they should have the right to pray however they chose to pray no matter what their beliefs are.”
Bonoff is concerned that unless the policy is concretely laid out and the Senate leadership commits to enforcing it, the blurring of the lines between religion and government, which she said played out during Monday’s invocation, may continue.
“I’m concerned the new Republican majority is not clear about the constitutional separation between church and state.”
Bonoff told Minnetonka Patch that she plans to ask Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch (R-District 19/Wright County) to not just request of speakers that their invocations be non-denominational, but to go a step further and also require it. If Koch refuses, Bonoff said she would introduce an amendment to chamber rules, which will definitively outline an interfaith policy.
Bonoff, who is Jewish, insisted that this issue is not about faith, but the law: "This is a constitutional issue. It's black and white."
Calls to Sens. Fischbach and Koch and an email to Pastor Campbell for comment have not been returned.