Religion in the Iowa State Government

How can Iowa be so good on gay rights and so bad on religious freedom?

Mount Auburn Rep. Dawn Pettengill (R) is trying to get a law passed that would force new congresspersons to say “so help me God” when being sworn into office.

Pettengill dismisses concerns her proposal would offend lawmakers who may not believe in God. She said it’s potentially offensive to her not to have the phrase in the oath.

*facepalm*

If she wants to say it, she can say it. No one is stopping her.

There’s no reason to force a useless homage to an non-existent being on people who know better than that.

Unless you’re a Republican and you want to excite the religious right base…

Pettengill belongs to the same legislative body that begins each session with a prayer.

The Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers are trying to put a stop to that. They recently sent a letter to all legislators trying to stop this practice (emphasis mine):

Dear Senator/Representative Last Name:

Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers (IAF) is a nonprofit corporation based in Des Moines. You may have heard of IAF from advertisements placed on DART buses in Des Moines in August. The advertisements read “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.”

IAF members are writing to object to prayers that begin each legislative day. We object, not because some of our legislators want to pray, but because our elected representatives choose to make prayer official state business. We object because the prayers are sectarian with invited clergy invoking the name of Jesus Christ. We object because our taxpayer dollars are being spent to pay invited clergy $10 for each chamber they pray in and to reimburse the invited clergy’s roundtrip mileage. We object because attendance for the prayers becomes mandatory for clerks, pages, and other legislative staff whose work requires them to be in the chambers at the time of the prayer because the chambers’ doors are closed and no one is allowed to leave.

IAF has members all over the state. As elected representatives of your districts and of all Iowans, your governmental practices and traditions should reflect the diversity of the people you serve. An officially sanctioned prayer by Iowa’s legislators alienates every voter and citizen who is not religious and whose religion differs from the prayers your invited clergy and some legislators themselves offer.

IAF members request that the daily prayer be eliminated as an official legislative activity. IAF members request that the prayer be held prior to legislators gaveling in for the start of the legislative day and that the chambers remain open to ensure that attendance is voluntary. This would require that legislators replace House Resolution 2 (passed January 12, 2009), which specifically addresses opening prayers. Additionally, IAF members request that Senate Concurrent Resolution 2 (adopted February 24, 2009) be updated so that invited chaplains are no longer paid any amount for their services and are no longer reimbursed for their mileage expenses to the State Capitol.

Sincerely,

Randy Henderson, IAF President

Randy and IAF are correct. There is no reason to begin each day’s sessions with a prayer. By voicing their concerns, they’re getting the issue in peoples’ minds and getting politicians to state their reasons for keeping it in there. I want to say these can be used against them in the future… but I doubt their opposition to IAF’s request will hurt their political prospects.

Speaking of which, another Iowa rep must be taking debate lessons from Pettengill.

Representative Kent Sorenson (R) Indianola says, “We don’t chain the doors and require people to stay in there. If they say I’m imposing my religion on them, then aren’t they imposing their beliefs on me by asking for this?”

*double facepalm*

NO! Why the hell is this so damn hard for them to understand?!

No one is “imposing a belief” on Christians by requesting that official prayers not be said. Your personal, private prayers? Fine. Say them all you want. State-sanctioned, government prayers? Absolutely not.

(Thanks to Nancy for the link)

  • martin

    ” If they say I’m imposing my religion on them, then aren’t they imposing their beliefs on me by asking for this?” they imposing their beliefs on me by asking for this?”
    Nope, we are imposing constitutional law on them.

  • Anonymous

    Hrm… By that argument, they violate their own beliefs if they don’t recite every single belief they hold in every single session. I wonder if they realize that?

  • NewEnglandBob

    wow, they apparently raise them dense in Iowa. Or maybe its just a RepubliCANT thing.

  • ursulamajor

    It’s like my argument with my fundie relatives about prayer in school. No one has ever banned prayer in school. If a student wants to sit there and say a silent prayer before lunch or during an algebra quiz, who’s going to stop them? It’s PREACHING in school that is banned, which should be the favored view by the fundies. Who knows when someone that doesn’t get their views exactly right might lead a prayer that they don’t believe in the 5th period pep rally? Blasphemous!

  • Greg

    It will not be enforceable even if it does pass because it is unconstitutional as it violates the “No religious test” clause. Precedent has been set (I wish I could remember the case in the 60′s) which states if a state constitution and the U.S. constitution conflict, the U.S. constitution wins. This rep probably knows that but just wants to appear to the religious right as if she is someone that is doing something to make the nation more “Christian”. In other words she is politicking.

  • DGKnipfer

    The worst part for me is that I know at least half my family in Iowa agrees with state funded prayer. Sigh.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    Perhaps the law should be re-worded to say “so help me the god that Dawn Pettengill believes in”. Then it could become a joke phrase that would get a chuckle every time it is said.

  • Trace

    Are they up for re-election?

  • http://reanhouse.blogspot.com Sarah

    Representative Kent Sorenson (R) Indianola says, “We don’t chain the doors and require people to stay in there. If they say I’m imposing my religion on them, then aren’t they imposing their beliefs on me by asking for this?”

    This causes me more psychological pain than you can imagine. How are these people able to survive to adulthood let alone gain positions of power? This guy would have trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time!

  • http://askepticbiblestudy.blogspot.com Nora

    wow, they apparently raise them dense in Iowa. Or maybe its just a RepubliCANT thing.

    I know it’s all too easy to generalize, especially about people in “flyover states” and less urban areas, but this statement is silly. In this story, we see quotes from 2 Republican politicians who support the prayer and one very well-reasoned atheist who opposes it, and all of them are Iowans.

    People of rational thought can be found in every state and overly religious politicians can be found in every state. Taking cheap potshots for a laugh isn’t the kind of quality commenting I usually see on this blog, and it disappoints me.

  • http://www.secularplanet.org Secular Planet

    Precedent has been set (I wish I could remember the case in the 60’s) which states if a state constitution and the U.S. constitution conflict, the U.S. constitution wins.

    It might be applied in a certain case in this situation in the 1960s, but the rule is straight-up Supremacy Claus, which is in the original Constitution.

  • muggle

    yeah and those kindergartners could refuse to stand for the pledge too, right?

    Geeze, no concept of captive audience or religious test for office at all by these two. Like the pages and whatnot can expect to keep their job and not be harrassed while on it if they quietly leave during prayer.

    You want to pray before hand, do it quietly in your office and don’t coerce your employees to join you. Tell your secretary you don’t want to be interrupted and close door and get down on bended knee to your hearts content.

    What? That’s somehow not as satisfying as when you grandstand for an audience of those admiring how nice and pious you are.

    Of course, if your prayers were sincere, you’d still believe you had an audience.

  • muggle

    Wow! That was weird.

    When I hit submit for my comment above, I got a blue box that said site temporarily unavailable, check back later. And hitting back gave me the same message.

    But when I re-entered through my bookmark, the comment was posted (to my relief).

    Anyone else get anything like that?

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Beth

    You know, one would think it would really bother Christian/religious people like Pentengill that people who don’t believe in her god are praying to it and using its name in an oath. Isn’t that blasphemy or something?

  • DGKnipfer

    Beth,

    Not to them. To them, everybody knows God in their heart even if they deny him with their mind. They think that if you’re just forced to pray then Jebus will enter your heart and your life. Then you’ll be a good christian just like them. I know it’s ridiculous, but I know so many people who really do think just like that. They keep telling me that prayer will do just that for me.

  • Hilary

    They think that if you’re just forced to pray then Jebus will enter your heart and your life.

    That would explain the big billboard that just says “Jesus come into my heart.” Trickery…

    Maybe someone should use their own bible to fight them. Matthew 6:6 “But when you make your prayer, go into your private room, and, shutting the door, say a prayer to your Father in secret, and your Father, who sees in secret, will give you your reward.”

    I guess they don’t like that one very much.

  • Ryan

    Sadly I live in Iowa.
    Once I turn 18 in November I am moving out of here and I am off to Canada!


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