As some of you may already know, the prayer I intended to pray before the Michigan Senate was deemed unallowable according to Senate Rules, and I was not permitted to offer it. If you are curious as to the words of the prayer, you may read it here: https://www.facebook.com/christopher.thoma.52/posts/10220201889853220
I mean no disrespect for those who serve in the challenging positions of governance, and yet I humbly request that they’d give ear to my concern and consider what they’ve done. A Christian pastor has been asked to pray to his God in accordance with the doctrines of the Christian faith to which he subscribes. The silencing of his prayer lest it offend others of differing beliefs —a prayer which speaks truth in love, but also with unequivocal clarity—teeters at the edge, if not crosses completely over, into the smothering of religious liberty.
For the record, the word “Invocation” is used a total of six times in the most recent edition of the Michigan State Senate Rules (Published February, 2019).
Its first usage is on page 8 of the index. The second usage is on page 1 of the content section. It’s used in passing in Section 1.102.b, which reads: “Except as proved in Rule 1.205(b), following the invocation and Pledge of Allegiance, the presiding officer shall instruct the Secretary of the Senate to record the attendance. The attendance roll call shall be taken using the electronic voting system for one minute; however, on the first session in January, or if the electronic voting system is not operational, the presiding officer shall instruct the Secretary of the Senate to call the roll orally and record and announce the results.”
Its third and fourth usages are within the same paragraph on page 9—Section 1.205.b. Again, its usage is in passing. The portion reads: “A Senator may be recognized prior to the invocation and the attendance roll call only for the purpose of presenting a motion to adjourn. Should such a motion to adjourn prevail, there shall be no official invocation and attendance roll call for that day.”
Its fifth usage occurs on page 19—Section 3.102. Here it stands simply as “Invocation,” and it is the second effort immediately following the “Call to Order” in the Order of Business.
The word’s sixth usage happens on page 32. It is listed as the eleventh point of clarification, designated as item “k,” in Section 3.902.a.1. It follows in reference to the list’s principal statement, which reads: “No person, other than the following, shall be admitted to the Senate floor…” Point “k” follows as: “A guest who has been invited by a Senator to offer the invocation, and a family member of that guest.”
Nothing else exists in the Senate Rules regarding the content of the Invocation. No rule exists regarding a required preview of the Invocator’s manuscript.
Additionally, it was shared with me by Genevieve Marnon, a friend and Dismemberment Bill petitioner, that she was told by campus police that the Michigan State Capitol Commission governs those types of rules. I did a similar search among the scribblings of the MSCC and discovered nothing of the sort. In tandem, I found it odd (if indeed it is true that the MSCC oversees the Senate Invocation) that such a body would be charged with such a task, especially when considering their official charter for maintaining the Capitol facility, which reads:
“The Michigan State Capitol Commission consists of the Secretary of the Senate, the Clerk of the House of Representatives, two individuals jointly appointed by the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House, and two individuals appointed by the Governor. The Commission manages, maintains and restores the Michigan State Capitol Building and its grounds. The Commission appoints an individual to manage the day-to-day operations of the site and employs staff to carry out these responsibilities. The Commission makes recommendations to the Governor, the Senate, and the House of Representatives regarding funding for the site.”
I found it equally interesting that the earliest acts establishing the MSCC are precisely worded in ways that describe the body as having no jurisdiction with regard to the House or Senate proceedings. One act (4.1946—Section 6.2) even goes so far as to remove the MSCC from limiting the Legislature’s privilege to use the facility as it deems necessary. The point reads: “The commission does not have authority and shall not exercise control over the internal decisions of the senate or the house of representatives related to the allocation of space in the state capitol building or the state capitol building parking lot, including legislative or staff offices. All decisions concerning space in the state capitol building and the state capitol building parking lot shall be made according to the rules or practices of the senate and the house of representatives.”
Finally, and in conclusion, if there are rules out there somewhere that show the prayer I intended to pray before the Senate as lawlessness, I am yet to see them.
And I have asked the people who’d know. I’m still waiting.
Of course, if you or someone you may know has a sufficient answer, please share it with me. I am courageous enough to admit when I’m wrong. But I’m equally courageous enough to pursue this to the end if, in fact, I’m not.