Nine state senators protest new rule with prayer

Hawaii News Now - Jan 26, 2011

HONOLULU - Protests at the state capitol aren't unusual, but in this case it was the actual lawmakers standing up to make a statement.
Nine senators gathered near the Hawaiian flag on the senate floor, joined hands and bowed their heads. Espero led the prayer. Joining him were senators Mike Gabbard, Clarence Nishihara, Glenn Wakai, Michelle Kidani, Suzanne Chun Oakland, Pohai Ryan, Gilbert Kahele and Ronald Kouchi. They did not have a microphone. No one in the public gallery was asked to stand or participate. In fact most probably didn't even notice. The whole thing lasted about 30 seconds. Then they made their way to their desks and a moment later session officially began.
"One can call it a silent protest. We're just saying we're continuing a tradition that's being done a little differently than in the past," said State Senator Will Espero, (D) Ewa Beach, who organized the prayer. "There are some people who believe we have completely stopped prayer in the senate chamber and that is not the case."
This after the senate decided to end daily prayer during session after the attorney general said the state could be challenged by a lawsuit. So is the senate caving to opponents?
"I don't think this has anything to do with a threat of a lawsuit or anything like that but we wanted to make sure we continue to respect everyone's individual beliefs," said Shan Tsutsui, (D) Senate President.
The issue got heated last April on the last day of session when Mitch Kahle stood up and objected to prayer in government stating it violates the first amendment of the constitution. He was physically thrown out. It prompted a civil lawsuit set to start tomorrow. So what does Kahle think of the senators impromptu prayer?
"I think religious expression is protected just like any other free speech. I think that the senators have every right to exercise their religious freedom and we support that," said Mitch Kahle, Hawaii Citizens for Separation of State and Church.
Come again? The atheist doesn't mind private prayer?
"I would imagine that prior to the official call to senate, the official call of the gavel senators discuss a lot of different topics, they probably talk about sports, maybe they read their horoscopes I have no idea but it's their personal time and they have every right to do it so we don't have any objections if senators want to bow their heads privately and pray to themselves," said Kahle.
Perhaps there is a compromise to prayer and politics. Amen to that, so to speak.