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Tuesday, September 02, 2014         

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Senate drops rule requiring invocation

By B.J. Reyes

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A day after opening the 2011 session with an invocation from entertainer Danny Kaleikini, the state Senate adopted rules to do away with the tradition of beginning its daily sessions with a word of prayer or other such appeals.

By unanimous voice vote yesterday, senators adopted rules that omitted a previous section stipulating each day's session start with an invocation. The session began without one.

House leaders, meanwhile, were still drafting their chamber rules with the issue under careful scrutiny. Members opened yesterday's session with Rep. Pono Chong performing the invocation. Chong (D, Maunawili-Kaneohe) asked only that members observe a moment of silence for personal reflection.

A three-member Senate committee last year looked into the invocation practice after the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii wrote to both the Senate and state House in August with complaints about "decidedly Christian prayers."

That followed the arrest last April of a protester who disrupted a Senate invocation. Mitch Kahle, president of Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of Church and State, was acquitted of disorderly conduct in November and is now suing the Senate and state sheriffs, alleging he was assaulted and improperly detained.

Senate rules previously included language stating: "Each day's sitting of the Senate shall open with an invocation."

Sen. Brickwood Galuteria, majority leader, said the new rules are flexible and allow the chamber to include invocations at its discretion, such as for opening day.

"The Senate will continue to explore the issue and can develop a policy for the proper implementation of invocations that is constitutionally sound," said Galuteria (D, Downtown-Waikiki).

Only Sen. Sam Slom, the chamber's lone Republican, voiced opposition to the exclusion of invocations.

"I think it's important that we stress the need that as smart as we may be, as intelligent as we may be, that we can still call on someone higher to help us and guide us," said Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai). "I think for us to take this out of our rules and also to, by omission, tell the community that we no longer think that this is important — I think that this is a mistake."

The Senate invocation committee recommended a new policy that would have allowed the invocations to continue, with restrictions, including that they be nonsectarian and make no reference to particular deities or central religious figures.

Senators ultimately decided to do away with the invocations rather than implement difficult-to-enforce restrictions.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1983 ruled legislative invocations are constitutional, because such prayers are deeply embedded in the history and tradition of the nation.

Rep. Blake Oshiro, House majority leader, said leadership was not looking at abolishing the practice, but instead was seeking guidance from the Attorney General's Office. Once the rules are drafted, they would be put to the full chamber for a vote.

"We do want to make sure that we are within the permissible legal, constitutional boundaries that have been set by courts," said Oshiro (D, Aiea-Halawa).






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