The opening prayers delivered in the Florida House have become what critics call the “J.C. moment,” said Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, who Friday told Speaker Will Weatherford that many Jewish members are offended by frequent references to Jesus Christ.
“I can’t tell someone how to pray,” Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, told Waldman before the start of Friday’s session.
The House opening prayers are typically given by clergy from around the state, who are invited by individual lawmakers.
Before speaking, those giving the prayer are provided a one-page guide from House administration suggesting they refrain from “preaching or testifying to the public.”
They also are urged to “be especialy sensitive to expressions that may be unsuitable to members of some faiths.”
Waldman said he and other Jewish House members have heard enought. He said Rep. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach, whose wife is a rabbi, typically enters the House chambers only after the prayer is completed — to avoid an uncomfortable moment.
“There’s just statements about the father, son and holy spirit,” Waldman said. “It’s just not non-denomination. I don’t care that it’s optional. That shouldn’t be the limit test. It should be inclusive. And it’s not inclusive.”
Weatherford said he would consider the criticism.
Complaints about the style of prayer delivered in the House and Senate have cropped up before.
One of the most contentious periods occured in 1997, the first year Republicans controlled both the House and Senate since Florida’s Reconstruction period.
Orlando evangelist William Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, that year delivered benedictions before the Senate and a joint session of both legislative chambers in which he attacked abortion, divorce and cited Jesus Christ as, ”the true God, the only God.”
Jewish legislators were joined by several non-Jewish moderate and liberal lawmakers in tarring the prayer as ”insensitive.”
Amid the criticism, then-House Speaker Daniel Webster’s staff researched prayers delivered during the previous Democratic House Speaker’s two-year tenure and found 11 instances where Jesus was mentioned, none of which apparently drew any objections.