Hawaii's state Senate is the first state legislature in the United States to end the practice of daily invocations, the Associated Press reported on Friday.
The decision stems from a discussion that began late last summer, when the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sent a letter to the Senate. The ACLU passed on complaints it had received about the Senate having opened with "decidedly Christian" prayers, complete with "references to Jesus Christ."
"Prayers that invoke specific aspects of one religion or denomination risk an impermissible entanglement of church and state," wrote Daniel Gluck of ACLU Hawaii.
Earlier in 2010, Senate security had forcibly removed Mitch Kahle, the leader of Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church, after he verbally objected to the April 29th invocation. A District Court judge found Kahle not guilty of disorderly conduct.
In September, the Senate convened a three-person committee to examine the issue. The state attorney general's office advised them that the prayers would not likely survive a court challenge. When the 2011 session convened on Wednesday, the Senate opened with its first and last invocation this year, a Hawaiian-language "song of prayer" from Hawaiian singer Danny Kaleikini (one of a number of entertainers who performed that day).
The next day, in a unanimous voice vote, the Senate ended the prayers. The only opposition came from the 25-member body's one Republican, Sam Slom of Diamond Head. Slom recommended making the prayers voluntary instead of eliminating them entirely. "I think it's important that we stress the need that as smart as we may be, as intelligent as we may be, that we can still call on someone higher to help us and guide us," he said.