LANSING (AP) - A newly formed prayer caucus in the Michigan Legislature that specifically endorses Judeo-Christian tradition should welcome officials of "any faith," the Roman Catholic church said Wednesday as the group held its opening event.
About 30 lawmakers and Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Calley attended the launch of the Michigan Legislative Prayer Caucus, singing "God Bless America" and praying during the event in the Michigan Capitol. Organizers have said anyone could join the caucus.
In its statement of purpose, the caucus frames itself as based on Jewish-Christian beliefs and religious liberties "that were widely practiced by the founders of these United States of America and the state of Michigan." That description attracted criticism last week from the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
On Wednesday, the Michigan Catholic Conference released a statement saying it hoped that "elected officials of any faith are made to feel welcome" in the caucus. The conference, whose board of directors is chaired by the archbishop of Detroit, acts as the official voice of the Catholic church in Michigan on public-policy matters.
"Bringing together the various faith traditions that are represented in the Michigan Legislature sends a strong signal that reminds us of the historical fact that this great nation was founded on a bedrock constitutional right to religious liberty for all," the statement said.
The Michigan head of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Dawud Walid, questioned the group's purpose statement, saying it was bothersome and self-contradicting.
"I'm a firm believer that our elected officials have the right to have their values guided by their sincerely held religious convictions," Walid said in a statement Monday. "However I'm somewhat troubled by the exclusionary language. ... On the one hand it's being articulated that it's open to all. On the other hand, there's some exclusionary language in there."
The caucus's co-founder, Rep. Ken Kurtz, R-Coldwater, said the caucus was focused primarily on Judeo-Christian beliefs but that anyone may join.
During the opening event Wednesday, Calley read a verse from the Book of Romans: "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, be at peace with all men," Mlive.com reported.
"It's a difficult standard sometimes to live up to and one that human beings are not naturally inclined to meet," he said. "But given the spirit that this group is assembled with, given the heart that can come from the close walk and communication and prayer, this is a standard that's possible to achieve - yes, even in the political process."
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