This morning's opening prayer by Imam Yusuf Kavakci of the Dallas Central Mosque sparked a flurry of meetings this morning after Sen. Dan Patrick vowed in conversations with fellow senators to "make a statement" in protest of what he considered an inappopriate prayer.
In the end, Patrick was absent from the floor and the prayer went off smoothly. Other than the Arabic, it could have been a prayer delivered on any other day: Lobbyists in the gallery took advantage of the sacred moment to check their Blackberrys.
The only evidence of controversy came in Sen. Florence Shapriro's welcoming remarks after the prayer, in which she assured the Imam that his presence was appreciated by her and "28 of my colleagues on the Senate floor."
Noting that "we are a country that prides itself on many freedoms" Shapiro said the Imam's prayer "demonstrtates what we all here have in common in the United States. We are all Americans."
Wait ... Did she say twenty-eight colleagues? Not counting Mario Gallegos, who has been absent for medical reasons, there should have been a total of thirty senators: Shapiro plus twenty-nine. She explained later than she had been informed by several members of the Senate that Patrick had approached them, expressing outrage that the Dallas Muslim leader had been selected to lead the Senate prayer. Patrick showed several senators a 2005 Dallas Morning News column accusing the Imam of extremist beliefs of a particular sect, though the News included the Imam's denial.
Shapiro said the prayer was planned months ago in conjunction with Texas Muslim Legislative Day, which brought several hundred Texas Muslims to the Capital today. "He called me and said can I come give the opening prayer and I said 'sure,'" Shapiro told me. "He is an interesting man and he lives in my district. These (the visiting Muslims) are people of faith."
The Houston Chronicle raised the issue in a story quoting Harris County Republicans who were opposed to a Muslim prayer at the Capitol, noting that Easter is this weekend. (Nobody complained that the prayer came two days after Passover).
Shapiro said she heard of the controversy during morning committee hearings. Moments later, Patrick came to the door of the Transportation Committee and motioned to her that he wanted to speak to her. She said she refused to leave the meeting.
The issue made some morning talk shows, apparently, and inspired this email to Shapiro's office: "I am a southern baptist and iraqi war veteran. I totally support your request to have a muslim start the daily session with a prayer. Our country prides itself on freedoms which the US forces and I have defended to the death. I support any freedom that has not been perversed or manipulated to personal benefit. Thank you for standing your ground against the opposition."
Patrick returned to the floor an hour after the prayer to debate Judith Zaffirini on her child safety seats.
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