Take Me to Church: Legislative Invocations

Jul 3, 2015

Whether it’s a Catholic priest, a Baptist minister, or one of the House members, each day of a legislative session, the House convenes with a Christian prayer. I asked House Clerk Albert “Butch” Speer when was the last time a prayer was something other than Christian?

“I don’t remember any time,” said the man who has served as House Clerk for 32 years.

Much of the reason is that invocations are done on a volunteer basis; members themselves or their pastors.

“The vast majority of the members of the House profess Christianity as their major religious belief, and so that’s what we’re going to end up with--because it’s purely voluntary,” Speer said.

That means there’s little chance Louisiana’s legislature will have a Wiccan offer the invocation, as Iowa did this year.

“We call this morning to God, Goddess, Universe, to be with us here today,” Wiccan priestess Debra Meyer prayed during her invocation in Iowa’s House. Several lawmakers there turned their backs during her prayer, or walked out of the chambers.

Speer has studied the relevant Supreme Court rulings to be sure the Louisiana’s legislature is within the law with its prayers.

“We’re not obliged to go out and create diversity. We’re just obliged not to discourage it, if it’s presented to us,” Speer explained. “As long as we don’t have a rule that says we will never allow a Wiccan to open the session, the fact that prayers all are Christian—to this point—is not going to ever cause us a problem.”

Speer said while the issue has not yet come up, “If a member were approached by a Buddhist monk, and they presented that Buddhist monk to us, then we could not tell them no.” He added, “And I don’t think we would.”

Unless voters elect a non-Christian to the House, it’s unlikely lawmakers will invoke the guidance and blessings of Yahweh, Allah, Buddha, Vishnu, Gaia –any name, except Jesus.