Robert Knight

In the state where pagan natives once threw people off cliffs to placate the gods, the Hawaiian state Senate has voted to end the practice of opening its sessions with prayer.

It’s probably just silly Internet prattle that some of the more intemperate civil liberties advocates want to follow this up by throwing pastors into Kilauea, the volcano home of the fire goddess Pele.

The Jan. 21 vote came after the ACLU threatened to sue because of a single complaint by Mitch Kahle, founder of Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church.

The sticking point is that some speakers invoke Jesus, which sends the ACLU into a bout of “separation of church and state anxiety syndrome.” It seems that they are functionally “anti-Christ.”

The phrase “separation of church and state,” of course, appears nowhere in the U.S. Constitution and was derived from a Jan. 1, 1802 letter by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury, Conn. Baptist Association assuring them that no particular Christian denomination would be declared a state religion. The liberal U.S. Supreme Court picked up on this nearly a century and a half later and concocted an extra-constitutional doctrine that the ACLU has wielded like a pineapple machete against public religious symbols or prayers.

During the period he sent the letter, Jefferson attended weekly Christian services held in the House of Representatives. No historical text as far as I know includes references during those services to Pele or to Buddha or even to Islam. Frequent mention, however, was made of Jesus Christ, since the overwhelming majority of the founders and the legislators at the time were professing Christians.

Samuel Adams, for instance, wrote this in a Dec. 26, 1776 letter to his wife Elizabeth:

“The name of the Lord (says the Scripture) is a strong tower; thither the righteous flee and are safe [Proverbs 18:10]. Let us secure His favor and He will lead us through the journey of this life and at length receive us to a better.”

According to the Associated Press, the Hawaii Senate is the first state Senate to ban prayer. In 2008, the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a 2005 ruling by U.S. District Judge David Hamilton that had barred the Indiana House from mentioning Jesus in opening prayers.

President Obama then appointed Hamilton to the same court that had overturned Hamilton’s ruling, and the U.S. Senate confirmed him 59-39 on Nov. 19, 2009. The sole Republican “yes” vote? Indiana’s own Richard Lugar.

Robert Knight

Robert Knight is an author, senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a frequent contributor to Townhall.