January 10, 2011

Prayer turns political

Kennebec Journal Staff

AUGUSTA -- An opening prayer offered by Roger E. Tracy of the East Eddington Community Church in the Maine House last week raised a few eyebrows on some State House regulars, who noted it was a bit more political in nature than the usual offerings.

"Forgive us Lord, if we seem a bit pretentious to come to you and ask for your guidance and help when we have so carelessly dismissed you from the very fabric of our society," he said. "We have not only declared you irrelevant, but have rejected the very mention of your name in our schools and in the public square. In the name of political correctness, we've become tolerant of everything except the faith of our fathers, Christian principles and anyone who holds dear the traditional values that have sustained us from the very beginning, yet we come today to pray."

Later on, Tracy said the state was in "trouble," and seemed to blame it on prior Democratic leadership.

"We have spent money we did not have for things we did not need and have burdened our children with a tremendous debt that they cannot pay. We need your help. We have overburdened businesses, so they have left our state for more profitable regions and we need your help," he said. "We have ignored the common-sense voice of the people for the bureaucratic power of bigger government and Lord, we need your help. We've replaced the pride and dignity of hard work and honest pay with a welfare state where subserviant dependency looks for a handout, and we need your help."

The prayer prompted House Speaker Bob Nutting, R-Oakland, to review the House guidance regarding prayer.

"Political debate is a primary function of the House, but invocation is a time for reflection outside that realm," said Nutting in a statement. He also said he had no intention of vetting each prayer.

House Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono, said some in her caucus were upset by Tracy's words.

"I had many members that were very upset by the overt political tone of the prayer," she said. "We all understand that we all don't share the same denominations or faith all the time, but there's a way to be open and respectful -- yesterday's prayer really was more of a political stump speech, and that was offensive to many of my members."

But she said she was pleased with how Nutting reacted. "I want to applaud the speaker for addressing that issue swiftly and for not condoning it," she said.

On the road

Legislators will leave the State House Wednesday for a three-day bus tour that gives them a chance to see a boat builder, paper company, high-tech lab and blueberry harvester.

For more than 20 years, the Maine Development Foundation has sponsored bus tours for legislators -- 90 are scheduled for this year -- to help them learn about the top issues facing the state, said MDF Executive Director Laurie Lachance.

"It will dramatically change the way they listen when people come before them with bill changes," she said.

The tour includes stops at Lyman Morse boat builders in Thomaston, Verso Paper in Bucksport, Jackson Labs in Bar Harbor and Jasper Wyman and Sons blueberry harvesters in Machias. They'll go to Eastport early Friday, before heading back to Augusta for an evening arrival.

In addition to official stops, there will be dinner presentations about rural dental care and tribal issues, she said.

The trip is paid for by associations that are members of the foundation. The 250 members include groups as diverse as AARP, Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Cianbro, various cities, the university system and United Way.

(Continued on page 2)

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