OKLAHOMA CITY – A member of the State House of Representatives announced changes in the House Chaplain system that some are calling exclusionary of non-Christian faiths.
Each day the House meets, there is an opening prayer. It is led by a Chaplain of the day. For years, these have been religious leaders nominated by different individual representatives.
In January 2017, Rep. Jason Dunnington nominated Muslim Imam Imad Enchassi to be Chaplain for the day. Enchassi was initially denied by Rep. Chuck Strohm, who is in charge of the program, without explanation.
When pressed, Strohm later said that only religious leaders from the representatives’ own congregation could be nominated. Currently, there are no Jewish or Muslim members of the House.
The Interfaith community took action earlier this week. On Monday, more than 40 members of the Conference of Churches took time out of their annual day at the Capitol to go to Rep. Strohm’s office to ask why he was changing the rules for nominations.
Strohm said he would issue a statement by the end of the week. He released the statement saying:
“The House of Representatives will transition its Chaplain Program, effectively immediately, to a model similar to that used by Congress. The Congressional model has previously been deemed constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Those members of the clergy who have already been submitted and approved to serve as Chaplain under the old system will be allowed to provide the invocation for the House this session on the dates they have been approved for. Through the end of the 56th Legislature, the House will utilize one individual to serve as Chaplain of the House, to be appointed by the Speaker of the House.”
“This press release only further discriminates in limiting this program even further,” said Shannon Fleck, who is a Christian member of the Interfaith community.
She hopes the appointed speaker will follow in her Savior’s footsteps.
“We follow Christ, and Christ is the most inclusive person that ever lived and we need to do the same,” she said.
News 4 contacted Representative Strohm for more information and further comment, but he declined. We also contacted several representatives that allegedly support Strohm’s stance. Some were not available and some didn’t return our phone calls.
“We have a real problem here at the Capitol. We focus on things that don’t actually make Oklahoma better,” said Cyndi Munson. “I think it’s a bit of a personal agenda. I don’t think a majority of the members or House leadership believe it’s the right thing to do, but they also aren’t stopping, so that is very frustrating.”
“I want people of the Interfaith community to know that there are members in this building that welcome them, and we will do what ever is possible to insure that that happens,” said Munson.