Interfaith leaders are calling for the Oklahoma House of Representatives' chaplain program to become more diverse and include non-Christians.
State Rep. Chuck Strohm (R-Jenks), who has been overseeing the House Chaplain of the Day/Chaplain of the Week Program, in January changed the program rules to require participating faith leaders to be "from the (referring) representative's own place of worship," according to The OKlahoman. Opponents said the change would effectively eliminate non-Christians from being House chaplains.
The newspaper reported that Strohm changed the rule after refusing to allow a Muslim imam to participate in the chaplaincy program last year. State Rep. Jason Dunnington (D-Oklahoma City), a former Nazarene minister, told The Oklahoman he knows Imam Imad Enchassi through Oklahoma City University and sponsored his chaplaincy application because he respects Enchassi's leadership role in the community.
"When I was told I was denied, it was extremely hurtful," said Enchassi, who gave a prayer to the Oklahoma House without incident in 2008 and has also given prayers at other government meetings, including before the Oklahoma City Council. "This is my state. This is my city. This is the place where I choose to raise my children. This is a place I love so it was extremely heartbreaking to me."
According to the newspaper, Strohm wrote to his House colleagues: "The Chaplain Program is not a platform for personal agendas, but an opportunity to ask for God's wisdom and to speak blessing and hope over those who are often overwhelmed by the many voices that are converging upon them."
The Oklahoma House has subsequently announced that its chaplaincy program will change yet again for the House's 2019 session to resemble the program used by Congress. The Oklahoma House plans to appoint a permanent chaplain but has not made clear whether it will also permit guest chaplains as Congress does, and if so, whether guest chaplains will be selected in a nondiscriminatory manner.
The Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma has led a coalition of faith leaders and others who oppose Strohm's rule changes and want the program to be more inclusive.
"This group is calling for the discriminatory practices that had been happening...