Varied Carols: Legislative Prayer in a Pluralist Polity


The article grows out of my research in writing an amicus brief for a group of distinguished theologians and religious scholars in Hinrichs v. Bosma, a case currently pending before the Seventh Circuit. That litigation involves a challenge to the practice of the Indiana House of Representatives of inviting chaplains of various faiths to lead the House in prayer before the start of each day’s official business. The trial court interpreted the Supreme Court’s 1983 decision, Marsh v. Chambers, to prohibit “sectarian” legislative prayer, and accordingly enjoined the Indiana House’s chaplains from invoking the name of Jesus, or otherwise praying in a “sectarian” manner. On the other hand, the trial court did permit purportedly “non-sectarian” prayers, including prayers invoking the names of “God” and “Allah.” Similar, well-publicized controversies have arisen earlier this year over public prayers by military chaplains. Whether Marsh permits or forbids “sectarian” prayer is, therefore, a lively and topical question that should soon require a ruling from the Supreme Court. This article is designed to influence the Court’s thinking about the question.


Constitutional Law | Public Law and Legal Theory | Religion Law

Date of this Version

August 2006