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Conservatives knock bill to allow Ore. workers to skip prayer meetings

SALEM &

A Lake Oswego-based religious conservative group and some state representatives are unhappy with a House passed bill that would allow workers to skip mandatory prayer breakfasts and on-the-job political rallies.

The group, Restore America, has sent e-mails knocking House Bill 2893, urging recipients to contact their lawmakers and register their opposition. The e-mail claims that the bill seeks to ban prayer in all state and local government bodies.

Meanwhile, Rep. Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg, distributed a flier warning that the bill "specifically targets Christians in the workplace, whether they are employers or employees."

The flier says the bill "will prevent employers and employees from praying or worshiping together even if it's their own choice!"

The bill, which has yet to be considered by the Senate, was introduced on behalf of the Oregon AFL-CIO.

Its spokeswoman, Jennifer Sargent, said the opposition has it all wrong. "This is all about whether workers should be forced on the job to listen to things they don't believe in," she said. "It's about their freedom to get back to work without fear of being fired. It's pretty simple."

The bill says an employer cannot require an employee to attend an employer-sponsored meeting or to participate in any communication with the employer if the purpose is to "communicate the employer's opinion about religious or political matters."

The bill also prohibits employers from firing workers who don't want to hear the religious or political message.

Hanna and Rep. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, submitted letters to the legislative counsel's office, requesting clarification on whether the bill would ban prayers by a public body such as the Legislature. The House and Senate customarily open each daily floor session with a prayer or moment of silent meditation.

Boquist's letter said the mandatory presence of the House clerk, staff, pages, security workers and other personnel during those prayers would result in a violation of the proposed law. The practical effect, he said, would be the banning of prayers.

The same would be the case with employees of local governments when their boards, councils and commissions open meetings with a prayer, Boquist said.

The bill's chief sponsor, Rep. Mike Schaufler, D-Happy Valley, said the legislation would not result in the end of opening prayers.