Minn. speaker apologizes after partisan prayer

2:27 AM, May 21, 2011   |    comments
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  • Bradlee Dean as guest chaplain in MN House
  • Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- It's extremely rare for the Speaker of the House to give a floor speech, much less issue an apology to fellow lawmakers.  But that's what happened Friday at the Minnesota State Capitol.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, a Maple Grove Republican, found himself compelled to apologize for the session opening prayer by the guest chaplain of the day Bradlee Dean.  The Annanale minister's invocation strayed into partisan territory when he questioned President Obama's Christian faith.

"It's not about the Baptists, it's not about the Catholics alone, or the Lutherans or the Wesleyans or the Presbyterians Evangelicals or any other denomination," Dean prayed.

"But rather the head of the denomination, and his name is Jesus, as every President up until 2008 has acknowledged, and we pray it in Jesus' name."

By invoking the name of Jesus Dean also broke the House tradition of non-denominational prayers. But lawmakers became even more concerned when they learned of Dean's history of controversial statements about gay persons.

His "You Can Run but You Cannot Hide International" ministry and "Sons of Liberty" radio programs have drawn fire from civil rights advocates.

In an interview last year, Dean said all homosexuals are child predators and molesters. He has also said gay romantic relationships should be outlawed, as they were in the past.

"I noticed he had a jacket that said Sons of Liberty on it and I though that was unusual," Rep. Terry Morrow, D - St. Peter, told KARE later.

"Immediately after the prayer I spoke to Speaker Zellers. We agreed this prayer had no place on the House floor."

The prayer came on a day when House leaders contemplated debating a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.  Opponents and backers of the measure chanted loudly outside the House chamber for hours Thursday and again on Friday.

After a brief recess Rep. Zellers asked the chief clerk of the House to essentially reset the session. In a virtual do-over, the clerk banged the gavel and the regular House chaplain led lawmakers in a prayer.

Rep. Morrow delivered an emotional speech to his colleagues, condemning Dean's message.

"Part of the explanation for starting our sessions with a prayer was that those prayers would never exclude, never marginalize a Minnesotan on the basis of their faith, on the basis of their beliefs, on the basis of who they are," Morrow asserted.

"And those expectations have been crushed today."

He said he was trying to maintain decorum.

"Some of you who are standing near me can see I'm shaking right now because I'm mad."

As news of the prayer, and Dean's past rhetoric began to fill the social media and news accounts, Zellers stepped up and made his disdain for the incident unmistakably clear. 

"Earlier today there was a prayer given by a man I personally denounce," said Zellers, speaking from the floor rather than the lectern on the speaker's podium.

"Members, I can only ask for your forgiveness," Zellers said, "But you will have my commitment, that type of person will never, ever be allowed on this House floor again."

Any House member can invite a religious leader to play the role of guest chaplain and deliver the opening prayer.  Rep. Ernie Leidiger, R - Mayer, told KARE that he submitted Dean's name after a request from Dean's group.

Leidiger said he had heard Dean speak at a school before, but had no previous knowledge of the pastor's statements denigrating gay persons.

At one point Friday afternoon Dean returned to the Capitol, after announcing plans to speak to the news media.  Key gay marriage backers were seen meeting him outside the Capitol.

Moments later an assistant told reporters Dean would not be speaking after all, but accused legislators and reporters of overreacting to the prayer.

Dean later blogged that the media ignored the main thrust of his prayer, and that Speaker Zellers wasn't worthy of being speaker if he doesn't agree with the prayer.

"Instead of the media reporting on it as me standing up for our future generations, all of the sudden I became an anti-gay divisive pastor," Dean wrote.

"When all I did was simply say a prayer encouraging all of us to honor our veterans, uphold the Constitution, and not forget the principles of our forefathers, upon which this nation is established."

The House recessed late Friday night without taking up the Traditional Marriage Amendment, but action could come as soon as Saturday.  The vote in that chamber is the final stop for the legislation, because it has already passed in the Senate and cannot be vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton.

(Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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