A Maryland minister was barred from giving the opening prayer in the state Senate after he refused to drop a reference to Jesus.

The Rev. David N. Hughes of the Trinity and Evangelical Church of Adamstown, Md., intended to round out his invocation yesterday with the line, “In Jesus’ name, Amen.” But the sergeant at arms – on the orders of Senate President Thomas Mike Miller Jr. – shut the reverend out of the body’s chambers.

Miller issued the orders after two Jewish lawmakers threatened to stage a boycott of the legislative session if the phrase was not removed.

“I’m shocked by the response. I’ve never had this happen in 26 years,” Hughes told the Frederick News-Post. “It just makes me feel that they’ve taken away my right as an American to pray, and this is the seat of government, and that’s scary.”

The pastor – a Vietnam veteran – was invited to give the prayer by Republican Sen. Alex Mooney. Hughes was Mooney’s fourth guest. The other three were Jewish rabbis.

Opening up legislative sessions with prayer is a longstanding tradition in Maryland, as it is in states across the country. Mooney told WorldNetDaily no one had been barred from giving an invocation before. He sees irony in yesterday’s “censorship.”

Maryland state Republican Rep. Alex Mooney

“We were the first state to address religious tolerance in our state charter,” he told WorldNetDaily. “This just shows a lack of tolerance for peoples’ religious views.”

Mooney recalled numerous instances of invocations referencing Jesus throughout the four years that he has been in office.

But at the beginning of the session this year, a string of invocations by Baptist preachers invoking the name Jesus Christ sparked debate on the issue. Miller appealed to lawmakers for tolerance and urged they stick to guidelines that call for invocations to be of an ecumenical nature and respectful of all faiths.

Webster’s New World Dictionary defines ecumenical as “promoting cooperation or better understanding among differing religious faiths.”

Since the debate, the Senate clerk screens prayers ahead of time and flagged the written text submitted by Hughes.

When Sens. Ida Ruben and Paula Colodny Hollinger – both of whom are Jewish – heard of the reference, they asked Mooney to strike it.

“I said, ‘Hey, I’ll let him pray however he wants to pray. I’m not going to censor him and tell him how he needs to pray,'” Mooney told WND.

Ruben told the Frederick News-Post she then urged Hughes to substitute “messiah” for Jesus, telling him the reference could offend non-Christians and goes against the guidelines.

Neither Ruben nor Miller returned calls seeking comment.

“This is part of my faith,” Hughes responded, according to Mooney. “The Gospel says when you pray, pray in Jesus’ name.”

The senators next asked to be excused from the floor during the prayer.

Paradoxically, a walk-out over a Muslim cleric’s prayer opening a Washington state legislative session last month backfired on one Christian lawmaker.

Washington state Republican Rep. Lois McMahan

As WorldNetDaily reported, Rep. Lois McMahan, a Republican from Gig Harbor, Wash., refused to participate in the prayer and declared, “My god is not Muhammed.”

“The Islamic religion is so … part and parcel with the attack on America. I just didn’t want to be there, be a part of that,” she said in an interview with the Seattle Post Intelligencer. “Even though the mainstream Islamic religion doesn’t profess to hate America, nonetheless it spawns the groups that hate America.”

But a day later, McMahan apologized on the floor of the state House of Representatives amid mounting furor over her stance.

Debate over invocations is raging elsewhere in the country. As WorldNetDaily reported, several Southern California cities are grappling with threats from both sides of the issue.

Under pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union to quit using the name Jesus Christ in invocations, the city of Lake Elsinore, in Riverside County, decided to eliminate mention of “religious figures.” The decree subsequently had the apparent effect of eliminating the prayer altogether, as no local pastors would accept invitations to deliver the prayer, and city councilors adopted moments of silence instead.

The ACLU contends that praying at the request of a government entity is a violation of the First Amendment’s prohibition against the establishment of religion.

But the nonprofit United States Justice Foundation, which threatened to sue the city if it failed to reverse its decision, maintains telling a pastor what to pray is a violation of his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and religion.

The notion of “separation of church and state” is derived from the dissenting opinion of the 1946 Supreme Court case Everson vs. Board of Education, which upheld a program allowing parents to be repaid from state funds for the costs of transportation to private religious schools. The court required only that the state maintain neutrality in its relations with various groups of religious believers.

“The decision in Everson does not rise to the level of being a battle cry for those who would wish to remove every vestige of religion from the public forum,” USJF litigation counsel Richard Ackerman asserts.

“There’s a push in this country to remove religion from society,” Mooney echoed, “from the Supreme Court’s decision on the Pledge to the ACLU going after all the Ten Commandments posted across the country. … Nothing in the church-state relationship allows censorship and the removal of religious values from society.”

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