North Dakota House Republicans Cancel Muslim Opening Prayer After Complaints
On Wednesday, Dr. Nadim Koleilat, the board president of the Bismarck Muslim Community Center, was scheduled to give the opening prayer at the North Dakota House chamber. But at the last minute, House Republicans decided to cancel Koleilat's prayer and he instead gave his opening prayer to the Senate chamber.
Why did House Republicans cancel Koleilat's invocation? District 24 Rep. Dwight Kiefert (R-Valley City) said he objected because it was Ash Wednesday: “I mean, you had representatives on the floor with ash on their foreheads commemorating the day. And so then you’re going to force them to listen to a prayer that they don’t agree with? It wasn’t very well thought out, I don’t think. If it would have been a different day, maybe it would have been better.”
Curiously, the man they asked to give the invocation instead had absolutely no problem witih Koleilat being scheduled to give the prayer instead. Rev. Rich Wyatt of Living Hope Church of the Nazarene in Bismark, who handled the House and Senate prayer scheduling, was asked to switch places with Koleilat at the last minute. “I thought nothing of it,” he told the local press about the initial decision to choose Koleilat. He also explained that apparently Legislative Council staff asked him to switch the invocation after getting pressured by a “bunch of legislators” – “We just basically switched to try to appease a few people, and they were very appreciative.”
House Speaker Rep. Wesley Belter (R-Fargo) told the local press that, “it was just purely a Christian event, and so there were a number of members that thought it was appropriate to have someone from the Christian faith on that day,” and said Koleilat would indeed be invited back some other time.
House Majority Leader Al Carson (R-Fargo) was a little more blunt, saying that “obviously we don't have any Muslims in this chamber.”
Interestingly, both Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner (R-Dickinson) and Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider (D-Grand Forks) said they received zero complaints from anyone in their chamber about Koleilat's invocation.
So what else may have led to the decision? Shortly before Wednesday, there were complaints by Republican Party volunteers about a Muslim giving the invocation at all.
Here's a screengrab of one comment that local reporters saved:
Another GOP activist reportedly asked, “Does this amount to the worst form of political correctness?”
When asked about these comments and others, Kiefert replied, “Christians are all the same family, and when they’re beheading Christians in another country, I mean, people are bothered by that, and so there’s some emotions that come into play” – a comment which seems to validate the backlash.
For what it's worth, here is the prayer that Koleilat ended up giving to the Senate chamber instead:
Peace be upon you. In the name of God, the most merciful, the most benefactor, praise be to God, the cherisher and sustainer of the words, most gracious, most merciful, master of the day of judgment. You alone we worship, and you alone we ask for help. Show us the straight way, the way of those on whom you have bestowed your grace, not the way of those who earned your anger nor those who went astray. Oh God, guide us with those whom you have guided, and preserve us with those whom you have preserved. Take us to your care, with those whom you have taken to your care. Bless us in what you have given us. Protect us from the evil you have ordained. Surely you command and are not commanded. And none whom you have befriended shall be humiliated. And none whom you have taken as an enemy shall taste glory. You are blessed, our Lord, and exalted.