Political Extremism Lurks Behind Prayers at Colorado Capitol - Word&Way

Political Extremism Lurks Behind Prayers at Colorado Capitol

No day at the Colorado Capitol is the same as the next, but one feature is common to every day: prayer.

Father Louie Hotop of Arrupe Jesuit High School leads a prayer in the Colorado House of Representatives on Feb. 13, 2024. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)

A formal morning prayer on the floor of the House and Senate comes before anything else, and the primacy lawmakers assign to this ritual implies that scripture is a dominant authority at the General Assembly.

Religious belief is central to many Colorado households, and lawmakers often lean on faith for moral guidance. But daily collective prayer, overseen by legislative leaders in the seat of the state government, is corrosive to democratic lawmaking, and it undercuts the Legislature’s duty to act on behalf of all Coloradans. It invites a supernatural hand into secular debates and imbues the chambers with the interests of faith. There is not one good reason for it to continue, and there are numerous reasons why it should stop.

In February, I published an initial commentary on the subject of government prayer at the Colorado Capitol. The piece quoted several of the prayers to which lawmakers are subjected, illustrating that some of the rhetoric can be divisive or false. The commentary also tallied the religious and demographic biases of the prayers.

A Newsline analysis found that the person who led prayer in the House more than anyone else during the 2023 and 2024 sessions was Republican Assistant Minority Leader Ty Winter. Before he was elected to the Legislature in 2022, Winter was a far-right conspiracist podcaster with connections to extremist group the Proud Boys. He led 13 House prayers this year, more than any other single person. But he’s not the only figure with ties to political extremism who was permitted to lead lawmakers in ceremonies that purport to evoke shared transcendent values.

On March 4, Mike Polhemus was invited to lead the House prayer. Polhemus’ Rock Church in Castle Rock is aligned with dangerous election deniers and the militia-connected anti-government group FEC United.

On March 7, state Sen. Mark Baisley was invited to lead the Senate prayer. Baisley has close ties to Charis Bible College, where founder Andrew Wommack advocates the Seven Mountains Mandate, which says Christians should rule over all aspects of society. Charis is associated with the New Apostolic Reformation, a Trump-warrior dominion movement led by self-identified “prophets.”

On April 5, Ric Brown from the Church at Briargate in Colorado Springs was invited to lead the House prayer. The church is a persistent source of anti-LGBTQ bigotry.

Capitol leaders should not honor such people with the privilege of any statehouse platform beyond what’s due to them as participants in legislative work.

The Newsline analysis found that in the House during the 2023 legislative session, men led the morning prayer almost 80% of the time; more than two-thirds of the prayers were explicitly Christian or represented a Christian perspective; and almost half of the prayers were led by White Christian men. The Senate prayers exhibited similar characteristics.

The 2024 session ended in May, and a new analysis shows that the statehouse’s prayer program retained a clear preference for White Christian men. This year, more than half — 55% — of prayers in the House were led by White Christian men. Christianity was represented in the House in at least 72% of its morning prayers, an increase from last year. In the House, 76% of the prayers were led by men. In the Senate, 86% were led by men.

Leaders should discontinue the Capitol’s program of prayer not only due to its demographic favoritism and because it sometimes affords odious figures a platform they don’t deserve. The larger problem is that no government should have any official role advancing any message of religious faith, particularly not as a daily feature of work it performs on behalf of people of various or no religious beliefs.

Government prayer is especially toxic now, when Christian theocracy is ascendant in Colorado and around the country. The most prominent political figure in the state, U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, has explicitly called for the Christian church to “direct the government.” Oklahoma’s top education official recently ordered all public schools in the state to teach the Bible. Conservative activists who are preparing for a second Trump administration intend to transform the federal government into an organ of Christian Nationalism.

Habits are hard to break. But when the Legislature reconvenes in January, it should purify its democratic purpose by ridding itself of government prayer.


Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and X.