Jerry Kopel

by Jerry Kopel

Okay. Tell me the difference between these two days in the Colorado House? The language came from the daily House Journals, and the difference isn't the days or years or the clergy.

Wednesday, April 7, 1976

The Speaker called the House to order at 10 a.m.

Prayer by Rev. James Koob of the First United Church of Arvada.

Monday, April 25, 1983

Prayer by the Reverend Phillip H. Porter, All Nations Pentecostal Center, Aurora.

The Speaker called the House to order at 10 a.m.

If you guessed WHEN the prayer was given, you were right. Back in 1976, the prayer was given AFTER the House was in session. But beginning Jan.8, 1981, for the first time, the prayer was given BEFORE the House was called to order.

What happened? The issue of prayer after a legislative session is called to order was a concern for Rep. Bev Bledsoe, newly elected as House Speaker. I'm not sure the press made any mention of the change, but it was known to the legislators and for some it was a welcome change.

The Senate did not follow Bledsoe's lead and for many years after 1981, the opening prayer was given after the Senate was called to order. Shifting forward to 2003, legislators begin the day with a prayer and pledge of allegiance, but as always the House and Senate do things differently.

In the House, the prayer is before the call to order, which is then followed by the pledge of allegiance after the House is in session. In the Senate, the prayer and the pledge are given BEFORE the call to order.

Clergy can give generic prayers acceptable to all beliefs, but some do not. Some legislators of Jewish faith wait until the prayer is given before entering the House and Senate.

Along with clergy of all faiths, legislators often give the opening prayer. As with clergy, what happens depends on the sensitivity of the legislator.

On May 22, 1981, Rep. Robert Stephenson of Colorado Springs gave the opening prayer. It combined sensitivity for other legislators' individual health concerns with a total lack of sensitivity to the beliefs of other legislators. His prayer:

"Our heavenly Father, we would ask that you would be with Jim Lillpop's brother-in-law, Howard. He's in critical condition. We'd also ask, Lord, that you would be with Bill Becker in the hospital.


"And Lord, I would ask that you would forgive us, the people of this state and this nation, for calling alcoholism a disease and in your word you call it the sin of drunkenness.

"We call pornography "art". You call it, or you say, it corrupts a man's nation with wickedness.

"Forgive us for legislating the responsibility of educating children to the government, when you say it's a father's responsibility.

"For saying we can't legislate morality, yet, you say the very purpose of the law is to expose and punish the immoral.

"You also say government officials are ordained by God to be a terror to evil doers.

"Lord, your Word is either true, or we must rely on our knowledge.

"I would pray that we would rely on your truth. Amen."

One last question. When was the first prayer given in Congress and who gave it? The First Continental Congress in 1774 opened sessions with a prayer and the prayers were given by Rev. Jacob Duche, an Anglican clergyman.


(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)

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