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Interfaith leaders head to the Oklahoma Capitol to protest change to Chaplain program

OKLAHOMA CITY – Leaders from all different faiths headed to the Oklahoma State Capitol on  Monday to get clarification on a change that they say would exclude non-Christians from leading legislators in prayer.

According to a letter obtained by CAIR Oklahoma, Rep. Chuck Strohm, Chaplain Coordinator for the 2018 Legislative Session, sent the new guidelines for the program to representatives in January. The program allows legislators to nominate a faith leader to become a Chaplain of the Week or Chaplain of the Day. Faith leaders who are nominated will then be able to lead the Legislature in prayer at the beginning of their scheduled day.

However, the new rule requires that faith leaders who take part in the program “be from the representative’s own place of worship.”

CAIR Oklahoma says several of its members are concerned because most of the legislators are Christian.

“The vast majority of Representatives identify as Christian, very few of which fall outside of Protestantism, and none identify as members of minority religions such as Islam, Judaism, or Buddhism. This would exclude an Imam, Rabbi, or other minority faith leader from praying with their legislators at the beginning of the day,” the organization wrote.

Many faith leaders, including many Christian pastors, spoke out against the plan.

“It’s an insult to the individual faiths and an insult to the entire interfaith community,” Carl Rubenstein, past president of the Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma, told NewsOK. “Our legislature if a legislature for all the people. That chaplaincy should be shared by all faiths.”

“They represent people of all faith traditions and people of no faith traditions. It’s important that if prayer is going to be at the Capitol, and prayer is a faith practice, then it not be restricted to one faith,” Rev. Shannon Fleck told the newspaper.

On Monday, dozens of clergy members of different faiths headed to the Capitol to speak with Rep. Strohm about the policy.

Rep. Strohm did not respond to the Tulsa World’s request for comment, but it appears as though he did speak with a few of the protesters.