A few weeks ago, State Senator David Goodman (R-New Albany) told me about how he had a mezuzah hanging ceremony in his statehouse office. As a result of scouring for more information about experiences of those present for and reactions to Pastor Keith Hamblen’s opening prayer in the Ohio House last week, I found that Rabbi Jason Miller‘s really nice blog not only had this insightful entry on the topic of opening the sessions with prayer (including a video of him opening a Senate session, for his first time), but that he also has this brief but really lovely video tribute of the mezuzah ceremony. AG Marc Dann, State House Rep. Armond Budish (D, 8th) and former State Sen. Eric Fingerhut were among the attendees. State Rep. Josh Mandel was not in attendance.
Placing mezuzot on a doorpost is something even I, as a Reform Jew growing up, learned about and learned the prayer that commands us to do it. I’m not sure how public places of employment choose to accommodate such commandments, should a person want to follow it at work, but it’s very warming to see David have his installed.
As for the opening sessions with prayer, I’ve spoken with some Ohio Statehouse folks and they tell me that the rules in the Senate do vary from those in the House re: opening sessions with prayer. I tend to agree with former ACLU of Ohio legal director, Ray Vasvari’s (another law school classmate of mine) assessment that any attempt to screen what the clergy might say is an impermissible prior restraint.
I really don’t know how I feel about the whole scenario, though. I would hope that clergy of all faiths would be mindful of the fact that the Ohio Statehouse includes elected officials who represent people of many faiths, and represent some people who are atheists. I confess that I’m not even sure why a prayer session is necessary for openings. Tradition is an okay reason. But what would these elected officials do if they were starting their work’s duties in some other public place? What do they do when they work from home, or their district offices?
[I watched Pastor Hamblen’s opening prayer and I’ve watched Rabbi Miller’s. Without having watched any others, from either chamber, I’m not prepared to pass judgement on either one. I can guess how they might have made me feel, but that’s not relevant to whether they’re appropriate. One quick note, I did catch, during the intro of Pastor Hamblen, that the school with which he is affiliated is an 08 school – that’s a category that I had thought was usually reserved for the Amish but apparently includes numerous other denominations. Pho and Eric wrote about these schools just two weeks ago.]
On a different note, I wrote here that I wondered what Rabbi Miller’s position would be on the inclusion of gays and lesbians as Jewish clergy in the Conservative movement. It sounds as though he is in favor of such inclusion.