At Least One Republican Lawmaker Needs a Lesson in What Religious Freedom Means

Minot Republican Rep. Jeff Hoverson shows a photo of him shaking hands with Rajan Zed, who gave a Hindu prayer to start the House's floor session Tuesday, April 2, 2019. Hoverson abstained from the prayer along with a few other lawmakers. John Hageman / Forum News Service

Rep. Jeff Hoverson is a Republican from Minot. He’s also a pastor. I know him personally, since we live in the same community, and I’ve heard him talk at length before about the importance of religious liberty. He feels that Christians, at times, are inhibited from living their lives in accordance with their faith. He worries about their ability to express their faith publicly.

Though I’m an atheist, I largely share his views in this regard. Every American should have religious liberty. All religions should feel welcome in the public square.

Which is why it’s bizarre that Rep. Hoverson objected to a Hindu religious leader delivering an invocation to a recent session of the state House of Representatives.

“Hoverson planned to submit a letter to Legislative Management, a powerful panel of lawmakers, stating that he was ‘saddened’ a Hindu prayer would be offered in the House,” my colleague John Hageman reports.

To be clear, several Republican lawmakers refused to participate in the prayer. Rep. Sebastian Ertelt of Lisbon, Rep. Luke Simons of Dickinson, and Rep. Daniel Johnston of Kathryn joined Hoverson in sitting it out.

They all, including Hoverson, explained the decision by saying Hinduism contradicts their personal spiritual beliefs.

Which, frankly, is fine. Nobody should have to participate if they don’t want to. Freedom means the right to say no as much as it means the right to say yes. Hoverson even said he met with Zed before the invocation and told him it was nothing personal.

That’s great!

But Hoverson took it a step further. He objected to the Hindu leader – Rajan Zed, the president of the Universal Society of Hinduism – even being allowed to deliver the prayer.

“Hoverson planned to submit a letter to Legislative Management, a powerful panel of lawmakers, stating that he was ‘saddened’ a Hindu prayer would be offered in the House,” my colleague John Hageman reports.

That’s a bridge too far, particularly for a man who claims to be a champion of religious liberty.

It’s not sitting to well with the guy Hoverson replaced in the House, either:


Again, I’m fine with people choosing not to participate in a prayer that’s not to their liking. We all have that right.

But Hoverson’s objection to a Hindu even delivering the invocation is, as Streyle says, a disgrace.

By the way, this isn’t the first time a religious invocation has caused controversy at the Legislature. Back during the 2015 session some Republican lawmakers objected to a prayer delivered by Doctor Nadim Koleilat from the Bismarck Muslim Community Center.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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