Hawaii State Senate bans daily prayer

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January 23, 2011

HONOLULU, Hawaii: Out of fear that they would face fierce litigative challenges brought against them by civil liberties advocates, "Hawaii's state Senate has voted to silence the daily prayer offered before each session began—making it the first state legislative body in the nation to halt the practice."[1]

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) fired off a letter to the State Senate this past summer after a citizen, "who objected to prayers that reference Jesus Christ," lodged a complaint against the state governmental body.[2] This, however, was not the first challenge state legislative prayers faced. In late-April, during the closing days of the state's legislative session, Mitch Kahle, an atheist activist from Honolulu, "disrupted two of the invocations from his position in the Senate gallery and was subsequently removed by capitol security" and charged with disorderly conduct.[3] Several months later, the Honorable Leslie Ann Hayashi, a justice for the O`ahu First Circuit District Court, rendered a "not guilty" verdict against Kahle and argued that the "Senate's [Christian] prayers violate the constitutional separation of church and state."[4]

It should be noted that the State Senate is overwhelmingly in the possession of the Democratic Party. Of the twenty-five individuals publicly elected to serve in the upper house, fifteen of which faced the voters this past November, only one of them is a Republican. State Senator Samuel Slom, the upper chamber's sole Republican member, "pleaded for making prayers voluntary rather than eliminating them altogether."[5] David M. Louie, the state's attorney general, however, advised "the Senate that their handling of prayers—by inviting speakers from various religions to preach before every session—wouldn't survive a likely court challenge."[1] State Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria the ban was based on the responsibility of the state governing body to adhere to the Constitution.

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