Still convinced that they matter, the far right, from RedState to NRO, are rallying to oppose District Judge David Hamilton, whose appointment to the Seventh Circuit is now pending before the Senate. One part of their argument is that Judge Hamilton previously forbade sectarian prayer in the Indiana legislature, but offered to construe prayers to “Allah” as nonsectarian, and therefore permissible. Down with Jesus, up with Allah! While terrifying if true — conservatives and liberals can agree on that, if for different reasons — it’s completely false. Here’s why.
The case is Hinrichs v. Bosma, and the offending post-judgment motion is contained at 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 38330. The relevant text:
The Speaker has also asked whether, for example, a Muslim imam may offer a prayer addressed to “Allah.” The Arabic word “Allah” is used for “God” in Arabic translations of Jewish and Christian scriptures. If those offering prayers in the Indiana House of Representatives choose to use the Arabic Allah, the Spanish Dios, the German Gott, the French Dieu, the Swedish Gud, the Greek Theos, the Hebrew Elohim, the Italian Dio, or any other language’s terms in addressing the God who is the focus of the non-sectarian prayers contemplated in Marsh v. Chambers, the court sees little risk that the choice of language would advance a particular religion or disparage others. If and when the prayer practices in the Indiana House of Representatives ever seem to be advancing Islam, an appropriate party can bring the problem to the attention of this or another court. (Emphasis/coloring added.)
The discussion emerges from Judge Hamilton’s attempt to define what constitutes a “sectarian” prayer in the Christian tradition, and is therefore forbidden. In context, this paragraph is an explanation that the choice of the name of God is irrelevant to the question of whether a prayer is “sectarian” — and a reminder, bolded in my copy, that if a prayer to “Allah” were to “ever seem to be advancing Islam,” it would be a “problem” worthy of his attention.
Admittedly Hamilton’s phrasing was unfortunate — it violates “Rove’s Law,” in the sense that the red-lettered portions of the paragraph can be excerpted from the whole to make it seem like Hamilton is advocating for something that he is not. But the bolded section, which describes Islamic sectarian prayer as a “problem” similar to Christian sectarian prayer, controls, and cannot be divorced from an honest reading of the opinion. If conservatives’ concern is that sectarian prayer ought to be permitted in legislatures, that’s a valid disagreement with Judge Hamilton; the contention that he supports Islamic but not Christian prayer, however, is not.