The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

August 8, 2013

Speaker has no plans to stop Ala. House prayers

— MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — For as long as many observers can remember, the Alabama House and Senate have opened sessions with prayer — usually given by a visiting minister, a lay leader and occasionally by House and Senate members.

House Speaker Mike Hubbard said Wednesday that he has no plans to stop the prayers despite a legal challenge to the practice in a New York town.

Hubbard and Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange have filed amicus briefs in support of legislative prayer in that case.

The speaker said the tradition of opening legislative sessions with prayer dates back to the beginning of the republic. The prayer is written into the rules of both the House and Senate, Hubbard said.

Hubbard said it makes sense to "seek divine guidance" before conducting the state's business in the Legislature.

Members of the Republican-led Legislature say the prayers are generally kept nonpartisan and are not offensive.

The prayers are given at the same time that members say the Pledge of Allegiance. Hubbard said lawmakers are asked to recommend whom they would like to give the prayer.

He said people from different faiths are chosen to give the prayers, including Muslim clergy members during the time when Rep. Yusuf Salaam of Selma, a Muslim, was a member of the House.

Susan Watson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, said she is concerned about the practice in Alabama. But she said the ACLU does not plan to challenge the legislative prayers until after the Supreme Court has ruled on the New York case.

"We're just going to wait and see what the Supreme Court does," Watson said.

Rep. DuWayne Bridges of Valley said he wants to see legislators fight to maintain the right to pray "before all meetings." Currently lawmakers pray at the start of sessions of the full House or Senate and before some committee meetings.

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