Prayer riles Minnesota House as final Friday begins

ST. PAUL -- The final Friday of the 2011 Minnesota Legislature opened with a prayer that upset many House members for its strong pro-Christian overtones.

Minnesota House members and staff listen to Friday's second opening prayer. The regular House chaplain delivered that prayer after the first one by a controversial conservative upset many lawmakers. Forum Communications Photo/Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- The final Friday of the 2011 Minnesota Legislature opened with a prayer that upset many House members for its strong pro-Christian overtones.

Most legislative opening prayers are inclusive of all religions, but Bradlee Dean today said that every president through 2008 acknowledged Jesus when he took office, an obvious shot at President Barack Obama.

"I know this is a non-denominational prayer in this chamber and it's not about the Baptists and it's not about the Catholics alone or the Lutherans or the Wesleyans or the Presbyterians, the evangelicals or any other denomination but rather the head of the denomination and his name is Jesus, as every president up until 2008 has acknowledged," Dean told representatives. "And we pray it. In Jesus' name."

Dean left out out Judaism and other religions. Several House members are Jewish.

In close to 40 years as a lawmaker, Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, said she never has known of a prayer that upset people so much.


Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, said that during Dean's prayer, he leaned over and told a colleague and said "that is going to leave a mark."

Indeed, it did. After several minutes of Republican leaders talking to staff members, House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, rapped the gavel and called the House into session again, without any explanation.

The House's normal chaplain went to the microphone and offered a prayer that included: "Thank you for the grace that is among us as individuals in this House."

Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, rose to complain about the first prayer, admitting to being so mad that he was shaking.

"This cannot happen again," Morrow said.

Morrow said he hoped the incident will not prevent representatives from uniting to do their work.

"Mr. Speaker," Morrow said, "I've always thought of the House prayer as an opportunity to contemplate together, to come together before the heated battle of what can sometimes be partisan politics. It was an expectation, it was a hope that I thought was fulfilled every day I came into this chamber today. Within the last hour this hope has been crushed by a single person's words."

Morrow later shook Zellers' hand and thanked him for allowing him to speak.


As Zellers went to a GOP meeting, he took responsibility for the Dean incident, but said nonpartisan House staff members scheduled the controversial pastor to speak. The speaker said that the regular House chaplain was supposed to deliver the prayer.

Later, Zellers issued an apology: "I respectfully apologize to all members in the Minnesota House of Representatives and all citizens of this state for today's morning prayer. As Speaker of the House, I take responsibility for this mistake. I am offended at the presence of Bradlee Dean on the floor of the Minnesota House of Representatives. I denounce him, his actions and his words. He does not represent my values or the values of this state."

Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, was upset.

"In my 30 years in the House, I have never seen such a hateful person be allowed to deliver the opening prayer," the openly lesbian lawmaker said. "Bradlee Dean has a documented record of hate speech, and has suggested that extremists who call for the execution of American gays are morally justified. The decision by GOP leadership to allow his intolerance, fear and outright bigotry into the 'people's house' is reprehensible."

House staff members said they would investigate how Dean came to deliver the prayer. Over the years, there have been other spats over what some people thought were inappropriate prayers, but longtime Capitol observers said they could remember nothing like this morning's incident.

Critics call Dean anti-gay. His prayer came on an already charged day in which people on both sides of the gay-marriage issue were gathering outside the House chamber shouting chants in anticipation of a vote on a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage.

Zellers and House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, refused to say if they planned to bring the proposed amendment up for a vote today.

Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, said they were being tight lipped, "maybe because it's wrong."


Kriesel and Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, are the only Republicans to say they would vote against the amendment, which would define a marriage as between a man and a woman.

"I would think it would be publicized highly if they were proud of it," Kriesel said.

The Legislature must adjourn at midnight Monday, but Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders remain far apart on a budget.

Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, left a meeting with Dayton this morning saying a deal still is possible, but said Dayton needs to give them a list of what state programs he would cut.

They offered no indication that Republicans would change their long-held stand and allow new revenue into the state budget.

Dayton insists on spending at least $35.8 billion, while Republicans limit the next two-year budget to $34 billion. Dayton wants a tax increase, while Republicans do not.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co., which owns the News Tribune.

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