‘That looks really ugly’: ND lawmakers turn backs on chaplain during prayer

Published: Mar. 7, 2023 at 6:22 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - As lawmakers progress through a historic legislative session, a controversial incident has arisen.

A prayer is now the subject of drama at the Legislature. For those who are unfamiliar with the day-to-day protocols at the Capitol, every floor session begins with a prayer by a religious leader — usually someone from around the Bismarck-Mandan community. About a month ago, two lawmakers chose that time to make a statement.

Backs turned during a prayer… not something you see every day.

“I just didn’t expect it. When I saw it, though, my first reaction was, ‘Oh, that looks really ugly,’” said Rev. Dr. Leanne Simmons, pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Bismarck.

Reverend Dr. Leanne Simmons was praying over the Senate on February 8 when Senators Michael Wobbema (R-Valley City) and Janne Myrdal (R-Edinburg) turned their backs to her.

“Creator of the universe and all people therein, You who formed humankind in Your image, placing them in this world in all their diversity — differing colors, genders, races, ethnicities and language. We praise You for the splendor of Your creation and the love that motivated Your hand on this Earth,” prayed Rev. Dr. Simmons on Feb. 8.

Rev. Dr. Simmons watched the video again on Tuesday.

“When I was praying about pluralism, diversity, genders, races, that was the point at which they look at each other and turn. That seems like a kind of benign prayer,” said Rev. Dr. Simmons.

But the Senators who turned their backs didn’t think so. Both declined on-camera interviews, but Senator Janne Myrdal told Your News Leader: “People lobbying from the prayer pulpit is something we don’t believe in.”

Senator Michael Wobbema said they felt like they were being lectured because of the transgender bills that they would be voting on later this session. He added, “According to God’s word, people who are called to preach God’s word are held to a higher level of accountability.”

Senate Minority Leader Kathy Hogan (D-Fargo) was disappointed with their actions.

“It actually broke my heart, because, first I thought it was so disrespectful of the people who come to volunteer. And secondly, it just made me sad because it’s not the decorum of the Senate,” said Senator Kathy Hogan.

Rev. Dr. Simmons says this experience won’t deter her from praying over the House or Senate again.

“I can say, praying for them, not against them. That I was praying for them. And I will continue to pray for them,” said Rev. Dr. Simmons.

Senate Majority Leader David Hogue (R-Minot) declined to comment on the incident, adding he’d like to remain focused on passing legislation.