McCall: No Mentioning Jesus In House
July 21, 2009
Bradley Vasoli — The Bulletin
State House of Representatives Speaker Keith McCall, D-122nd, of Carbon County, recently instructed a guest chaplain to refrain from referring to Jesus Christ in chamber prayers.
The rule prompted a guest chaplain, Rev. Gerry Stoltzfoos of Adams County’s Freedom Valley Worship Center, to decline to recite a prayer before House members. He was invited to give the invocation by Rep. Will Tallman, R-193rd, of Adams and York counties.
Bill Patton, a spokesman for the speaker, said the guideline against mentioning a major scriptural figure like Jesus “has been in place for a number of years” and that “most of the House members have not even noticed this issue.”
One member who did notice Mr. McCall’s instruction to the minister was Kate Harper, R-61st, of Montgomery County.
“I was very surprised by that and I don’t agree with it,” she said. “I don’t know what [Mr. McCall] was thinking.”
Ms. Harper said she did not believe forbidding mentioning Jesus’ name could be justified to avoid a lawsuit someone could file to preserve the separation of church and state, a possibility to which Mr. McCall’s office has alluded.
Clergy from many different denominations have recited prayers before the House chamber in the past, she noted.
The Lower Gwynedd attorney said the General Assembly should only take precaution to avoid getting sued if it considers itself in actual danger of breaching the law.
At the invitation of state Sen. Rich Alloway, R-33rd, of Adams, Franklin and York counties, Rev. Stoltzfoos will give an invocation before the Pennsylvania Senate, which sets its rules for prayers separately from the House, on July 29.
The Colorado-based Pray in Jesus Name Project has put out a petition to get Pennsylvania and other jurisdictions around the country to scrap “nondenominational” requirements governing prayers during government meetings.