Rather than open up the legislative House prayer to more voices of faith as suggested by constituents across Oklahoma, the reaction is to narrow it to one.
Leave it to the Oklahoma Legislature for something that could be resolved with simple diplomacy to spiral into an embarrassment.
The traditional legislative prayer should serve to unify the body for a broad-based, non-denominational moment of reflection.
It wouldn’t hurt for a few members to meet people of different faiths anyway.
Earlier this year, Rep. Chuck Strohm, R-Jenks, as coordinator of the House Chaplain of the Day/Week program for this year, asked members to nominate representatives from their own place of worship.
That effectively bans prayers from any faiths that don’t count House members among their believers, meaning Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus need not apply.
This move rightly upset and offended inter-faith communities for being exclusionary and biased.
It follows a pattern of being discriminatory at the state Capitol, including a denial from Strohm to Rep. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City, for the senior imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City to serve as House chaplain for a day. Also, Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw, has called Islam a cancer and its local leaders terrorists.
Strohm’s remedy to this brouhaha is to create a permanent, single House chaplain to be appointed by the House Speaker. He said the U.S. Congress has this model, so it passes constitutional muster.
Oklahoma can do better than slip by on meeting the constitutional bar.
This decision symbolically slams the door on people of varying belief systems. It does nothing to promote inclusiveness, understanding or empathy.
Unknown is whether the chaplain will be a paid position and what qualifications will be considered.
If this one-sided decision moves forward, the position should require experience with inter-faith communities and training in mental health.
House leaders can still provide intervention and return the program to its non-controversial operation.