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01/24/2006 Prayer Sparks Feud

Senators object to morning prayer on abortion, evolution:
State senators who bowed their heads on the floor of the Legislature expecting a mild morning prayer to start their day Tuesday instead got a fiery sermon that left some feeling burned.
The prayer offered by guest Pastor Tom Swartley of Elm Creek had a routine beginning. ‘Almighty God, we come humbly into your presence this morning seeking your favor.’
Six sentences in, Swartley was asking for forgiveness for ‘a people who have killed 47 million of my fellow Americans since the day I was born.’ He prayed that legislators would have a renewed sense of conscience and courage ‘to do what is right’ regarding abortion.
‘Open our eyes to the other aspects of this 33-year-long bloody nightmare,’ Swartley said. ‘Open our eyes to see that we’ve killed 47 million young American taxpayers, and indeed Social Security is in crisis. Open our eyes to see that 47 million of our countrymen and women are gone ” doctors, lawyers, inventors, authors, musicians and artists.’


First Christian Church or Elm Creek

Prayer Sparks Feud

Some lawmakers object to content
Posted: 10:37 AM Jan 24, 2006
Last Updated: 10:41 AM Jan 24, 2006

Church and state collided in the Capitol Tuesday when the opening prayer in the Unicameral asked forgiveness for abortions and the teaching of evolution.

Morning prayers typically are general in nature and do not touch on hot-button social, political or religious issues. Guidelines given to those who are asked to deliver the prayer, sent by the clerk of the Legislature’s office, forbid talking about issues that are on that day’s agenda for debate, or expressing any sentiment that could be considered political in nature.

The prayer was delivered by Tom Swartley, a minister at First Christian Church in Elm Creek. Standing at the front of the legislative chamber with his comments broadcast statewide, Swartley asked God for forgiveness for abortion, which he called a, “33-year-long nightmare.”

“We go to work and school and come home and watch TV while genocide, infanticide and homicide is being committed against our own children,” he said.

Swartley also asked forgiveness for “teaching the religion of evolution to our young citizens.”

“We put our children in the same category as other mammals and then we wonder why some act like animals,” he said.

Omaha Senator Ernie Chambers, who makes it a point not to be present during the daily prayer, rushed from his first-floor office up the stairs to the chamber in time to criticize the remarks shortly after they were completed.

“I have not been as enraged and furious in the Legislature as I am this morning,” said an obviously upset Chambers.

Chambers, who described Swartley’s prayer as divisive, insulting and wrong, renewed his call to do away with the morning prayer.

Lincoln Senator DiAnna Schimek, who said she did not hear the prayer, also spoke and said she believed others in addition to Chambers had been offended.

Swartley, who remained seated under a balcony inside the legislative chamber during Chambers’ comments, said he had no intention of breaking the rules governing the prayer.

“I was praying to moral issues,” said Swartley, who held a Bible in his left hand. “I was not endorsing a candidate or political party.”

Swartley said he had read the guidelines sent in a letter from the clerk’s office inviting him to deliver the prayer, and he didn’t think praying about abortion would be in violation.

“I feel bad about the turmoil, but I don’t feel bad about my convictions, which are based on the Bible,” he said.

Senator Jim Cudaback of Riverdale, the lawmaker who invited Swartley, said Swartley had stepped over the line. Cudaback said he sends letters to numerous churches in his district seeking those interested in giving the prayer, and Swartley responded.

“You don’t bring that kind of subject,” Cudaback said of Swartley’s prayer. “You’re here to make us feel good.”