Atheists and Non-Christians Could Be Excluded from Offering OK House Invocations

The Oklahoma House of Representatives, like many state houses, opens its work days with an invocation. Republican State Rep. Chuck Strohm (below) is the person coordinating those speakers and he recently sent a letter to all elected officials giving them guidelines about who they could nominate for the honor of “Chaplain of the Day.”

But there’s an obvious problem with those guidelines.

Trevor Brown of Oklahoma Watch obtained a copy of that letter and notes that the rules effectively shut out religious minorities and atheists from delivering those invocations.

That’s because Strohm’s letter makes clear that his colleagues should nominate speakers from “the representative’s own place of worship”… Which is very convenient when the Oklahoma State House is overwhelmingly Christian.

Shannon Fleck, director of community Engagement for the Oklahoma Conference of Churches, a group that represents 600,000 members from Protestant, Roman Catholic, Episcopal and historically black churches, said the policy is troubling since she is not aware of any Muslim or Jewish lawmakers.

She said many Christian denominations also have little or no representation.

“By limiting legislators to pull from their individual faith traditions for legislative chaplains, the opportunity has been stripped from our elected officials to have any exposure to the vast and beautiful religious practices that make up this great state,” she wrote in a Feb. 1 letter to Strohm. “Additionally, those who practice religions other than the majority in Oklahoma, are being told their voice does not matter, their religion is less important, and they are being actively and succinctly shut out.

That may very well be the point. If Strohm wanted to make sure only Christians were delivering the invocations, without explicitly rejecting non-Christian speakers, this is a way to do it. However, there’s an argument to be made that this decision would violate the Supreme Court’s own ruling in Greece v. Galloway which allowed for sectarian invocation prayers.

It’s possible this rule was proposed to exclude Imam Imad Enchassi, a Muslim leader who was nominated to speak last year. Enchassi waited for months as his nomination went nowhere. Strohm never gave him a formal response explaining why he wasn’t allowed to speak in the State House. But you can probably guess why…

While Strohm isn’t saying anything to the press about the new rules, one House Democrat may have found a way to circumvent the rules.

… Rep. George Young, D-Oklahoma City, who was the senior pastor at Holy Temple Baptist Church, said he didn’t find out about Strohm’s guidance until last week.

Young said he plans to see how serious Strohm is about the guidelines since he said he intends to nominate Enchassi to be Chaplain of the Day this session.

“And if he turns me down, he’s going to tell me why,” Young said.

This is what every legislator should be doing. Strohm owes everyone an explanation, but it won’t happen unless more elected officials nominate an atheist or other non-Christians for that temporary position.

(Screenshot via YouTube. Thanks to Brian for the link)

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