Bosma, Legislative Prayer, and the Jewish 2%

I was just clued-in to a post at The Daily Pulse on a meeting between representatives of  the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council and House Speaker Brian Bosma. According to an account by one of the Rabbis who took part in the meeting, Speaker Bosma had a pretty callous attitude toward how Jewish citizens’ rights might be affected by sectarian Christian prayer as part of the official business of the Indiana House of Representatives.

The e-mail describes the meeting as follows:

Last Tuesday, the Indianapolis JCRC’s Jewish Lobby Day was held. Around 40 Jews from around the State of Indiana came to Indianapolis to lobby our state senators and representatives on a number of issues.

The day ended with a private meeting with Speaker of the House Bosma meeting our group in the beautiful House chambers. We asked questions about full day kindergarten, about the clinics, and a young member of the delegation asked about providing sexuality education in public schools that is more than abstinence based. He responded to everything we asked. Sometimes we liked what he said and sometimes we didn’t. Speaker Bosma wondered why we hadn’t discussed the controversy surrounding the issue of prayer in House chambers. He told us his version of what happened and what he believes, and a passionate exchange took place. The end of this exchange left us, the Jewish delegation, in shock. Speaker Bosma, defending the prayer issue, asked, “How many Jews are there in Indiana? About 2%? There are at least 80% Christians in Indiana.” The implication of this statement was that our minority community doesn’t and shouldn’t have any say or any voice. It is about the majority and what the majority wants. The jaws of the delegation dropped to the floor. We were speechless. Everything we believed about this country had just been trampled. Gone was the belief of the constitutional protection of minorities. Gone was not feeling marginalized. Gone was the belief we were not strangers in this country. I am sure that Speaker Bosma is a fine man, but in that moment, for the first time in my life as a citizen of this country, I was scared. It is what I now call the 2% solution (and Jews are much less than 2% of this state) that if you are only 2% don’t even bother to speak up as the “Tyranny of the majority” will prevail.

I am sorry to bring such a depressing message as we prepare for Shabbat, but it needs to be said and addressed. I have been reminded about why we need to be vigilant. So I come to you on this Friday, February 17, 2006, to ask you to use this Shabbat to think about joining me and others at times to raise our voices. We might not agree on all the issues, but we agree that as Jewish residents of this State we should have a voice. 2% or less shouldn’t matter. It is not about the majority. It is about us.

As you light your Shabbat candles this evening, light one for this great nation that has allowed us to grow and prosper and worship as Jews without restrictions. Light the other as beacon to our elected officials who if they follow the light will understand that leadership comes with responsibility to all, to be inclusive of all, and to help those who need the most help.

Shabbat Shalom

As a lawyer, Speaker Bosma should understand that one of the most important roles of the U.S. Constitution (or any Constitution, really) is to protect the rights of minorities from the passions and preferences of the majority. Perhaps the e-mail does not provide the full context of Speaker Bosma’s statement. But, it scarcely matters. If Speaker Bosma tried to defend government speech that endorses a particular religion by citing majority opinion, he apparently does not appreciate that, far from being a defense, disproportionate power is precisely the reason that government speech should not be used to advance the dominant religion.  

Comments

  1. Randy says

    Perhaps the impression given to you by Bosma wasn’t as you would have liked or expected but the fact remains that there are a heck of a lot more non-jewish folks in Indiana than jewish folks. I wonder what would happen if the reverse were true? Would Christians get upset if a jewish prayer was given? I think not as Christians believe in religious tolerance are are unusually passive when the word minority is uttered. Its hard to believe since every major religion recognizes a superior maker even though he or she might be called something different, that we as a people can’t agree or get along. Why doesn’t the house open with a different prayer every day, rotating with the different religions? Because some hair-brain cactus eating snail worshipping cleric would cry foul if he didn’t get a chance to sacrifice something during prayer.

  2. says

    It doesn’t matter what religion is being promoted from the Speaker’s podium. If the speech is being given from the Speaker’s podium as part of the official business of the House of Representatives, it is government speech. Government speech should not be used to promote any religion. Period. Doesn’t matter if it’s a Jesus worshipper or a snail worshipper.

    Individuals are allowed to pray as they will. Government is not allowed to pray. Once you step down from the Speaker’s podium, knock yourself out. I’m a fan of limited government, and this is just one of the limitations on government imposed by our Constitution.

  3. Jason says

    “Speaker Bosma wondered why we hadn’t discussed the controversy surrounding the issue of prayer in House chambers.”

    That is disturbing, but consistant. Bosma is going WAY out of his way to be a victim. As a Christian, I am tiring of hearing him represent me by running around asking non-christians to persecute him.

    There are many REAL cases of Christianity being suppresed by the government in favor of any other religion. An instance comes to mind where Christian Chirstmas songs were banned at a school, while Jewish songs were allowed.

    If Bosma wants to go fight real issues to protect his faith, there are plenty. He doesn’t need to create one.

  4. lawgeekgurl says

    I told you so. Not that I’m saying I told you so. But I told you so. It’s all about the “there’s more of us than there are of you” (and with Bosma, honestly? it’s more “there are more of us VOTING than there are of you, and I need the votes”) and so majority rules. There is such a fundamental misunderstanding of the origins of this society as a representative democracy and what that means, and why there are checks and balances, that I fear for this country more now than I ever have in my life.

  5. Michael says

    Speaker Bosma is simply playing to his base. The problem is, he is so actively alienating and mobilizing the rest of the universe, that he is going to be hard-pressed to retain the title, “Minority Leader” after the next election. That would be fine, but he and his ilk are doing considerable harm on their way to minority status.

    When that time comes, we’ll see if his views on the rightful rule of the majority change.

  6. Karen says

    Maybe somebody should clue Randy in that the reason behind this entire situation is that Bosma went WAY beyond what Randy suggests. A charitable assessment would call Bosma’s tactics “energizing the base” of far-right fundamentalist Christians. A less charitable view might be that he is acting like the classic magician (“look what I’m doing with this hand so you don’t see what I’m doing with the other hand”). I think that the JCRC group was focused on the right thing – REAL issues that affect Hoosiers. It is a terrible shame that Bosma is so focused on advancing his right-wing agenda that he can’t allow real debate and discussion of real issues and that he has to create artificial “problems” as distractions to doing the people’s business.

  7. says

    If there are any journalists out there, here’s a question that I’d like to see candidates answer: “Do you support the continued existence and enforcement of the establishment clause?”

  8. says

    But the present administration,meaning all those at state level too, have looked at themslves as having a ‘mandate to govern’ Extremism usually denotates ( at least in this country) someone with extreme views, but who ISNT making policy and calling the shots for the whole country.And has there ever been an extremist who hasnt spoken in moral terms?
    And on a broader religious and secular perspective, why suddenly are we separating ‘Jews’ from ‘Christians’ in ANY way? Are we not a judeo-Christian culture?. It’s these SAME people, who quickly thumb back to the OLD TESTAMAMENT ( ‘the Jewish part’)to separate the LAW from the New Covenant’or differently stated, to separate BY sin rather than to unite BY love and Christian reconciliation. These fundamentalists in power is the absolute worst thing that ever happened to our country. Religion has been corrupted and so has government along with our Constitution.The Dark Ages are upon us AGAIN, but with computers and instant communication this time.This BOSMA is only ONE of them.

  9. says

    Bosma wouldn’t be the first lawyer to not understand the importance of protecting the minority against the tyranny of the majority. I fear that Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito of SCOTUS don’t truly understand or believe in that either.

  10. says

    People responded to this story, and they responded in droves. Apparently, the e-mail was so overwhelming that Bosma felt he had to respond, and yesterday he apologized to the Jewish Community in a personal meeting with leaders, and on the 6 O’Clock news.

    Well, lots of people asked if he was being challenged, and how to help. I’m thrilled to announce that he is being challenged, and by the President of the Hamilton County Democrats, Susan Fuldauer. She just announced this weekend and is still getting her website off the ground. If you want to help, here’s some information:

    Contributions can be made to the following:
    Committee to Elect Susan Fuldauer, 6284 Rucker Rd., Suite A, Indpls., IN 46220

    Vote Susan should be up and running and have some additional methods for contribution working by next week.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Sodrel seeks to limit minority access to justice By Doug Hot on the heels of Rep. Bosma’s implication (and subsequent apology) that Christian prayer as official business of the House Representatives is acceptable because non-Christians are a minority of the population, U.S. Rep. Mike Sodrel seeks to bar access to the courts for minorities whose rights are violated by the likes of Bosma. […]

  2. […] Susan Fuldauer (http://www.votesusan.com/), candidate for State Representative in the 88th district. She talked about how her opponent, Rep. Bosma, has made some remarks recently that have given her campaign national notice and good fundraising – including 12 new fundraisers. This district represents the speaker of the House and the Governor and yet has a bankrupt school district in IPS and argues that Republican leadership of this district has not been up to the task. […]

  3. […] This is the kind of thing that happens in a land where religious minorities are not vigorously protected from the passions and preferences of the majority. Closer to home, Representative Bosma has apparently made the argument that Christian prayer as official business of the Indiana House of Representatives is perfectly alright because Christians enjoy such a large majority in the state (the figure suggested was 80% Christian, 2% Jew).  Now, before anyone starts hyperventilating over the comparison, please note that I realize having your government endorse Christianity to the exclusion of one’s minority religion is nowhere near as severe as having your government execute you for believing in your minority religion. But some have suggested that those of minority religions either need to suck it up or leave because Christians are the majority and majority rules in America, failing to recognize that protection of minorities against the passions and preferences of the majority are an essential component of our Constitutional Republic. […]

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