Pastor Gerry Stoltzfoos of Freedom Valley Worship Center is speaking out against a policy of the state House that requires guest chaplains invited to offer
Pastor Gerry Stoltzfoos of Freedom Valley Worship Center is speaking out against a policy of the state House that requires guest chaplains invited to offer prayers at the Legislature's sessions to keep their words 'nondenominational.' (DAILY RECORD / SUNDAY NEWS -- JAMES ROBINSON)

Gerry Stoltzfoos is a man of faith -- but not the type who preaches constantly with in-your-face theology. Even the Gettysburg-area church where he serves as lead pastor is designed more as a gathering hall than as a shrine full of religious imagery.

But when it comes to prayer, Stoltzfoos is steadfast in his approach of speaking directly to and addressing by name the Christian God he worships.

"I think prayer is talking to God, so when I pray, I try to talk to him," said Stoltzfoos, the pastor of Freedom Valley Worship Center in Straban Township, Adams County.

However, that principle clashed recently with a new policy of Pennsylvania's Speaker of the House, Keith McCall, D-Carbon County.

Stoltzfoos had been invited by state Rep. Will Tallman, R-Reading Township, Adams County, to open Tuesday's session of the House with a prayer as guest chaplain.

The pastor declined the invitation after someone on McCall's staff told him he could not use Jesus' name in the prayer.

"First of all, I don't see how Jesus is denominational. The whole Christian world is called after him," Stoltzfoos said. "I just feel like, if you want me to pray, then I have to pray to the one thing I know. I only know one God personally. I only serve one God. How do I do something that dishonors him?"

The policy -- not yet three months old -- requires guest chaplains to first submit their prayers in writing and then, if deemed necessary, agree to change their words to meet "nondenominational" guidelines established by McCall's staff.

It is not an attempt to silence religious leaders, McCall spokesman Bob Caton said, but rather an effort to prevent taxpayers from having to foot the bill of a lawsuit if someone objects to a prayer's contents and chooses to sue the state.

"Unfortunately, it's because states like Indiana and Ohio have been sued," Caton said. "We've followed the example that unfortunately was set in other places. We're bringing Pennsylvania's practices in line with what other states have done."

Tallman, whose district includes Hanover and Penn Township, said he invited Stoltzfoos to lead the prayer because he respects him both as a man of God and for his service as president of the New Oxford Borough Council.

As for what transpired, the representative said he believes "some of the leadership is probably not respecting diversity."

"Why is somebody from the speaker's office going to pre-approve a prayer by a man of God?" Tallman asked. "They're putting themselves in a pretty interesting position there."

He also said he does not believe concerns over potential lawsuits are legitimate, though he declined to comment further as to why.

Tallman said he plans to organize a bipartisan group of legislators displeased with the new policy and propose an alternative that could satisfy both sides of the issue.

"We think we need to have a more balanced look at this issue," Tallman said.


State Rep. Dan Moul, R-Conewago Township, Adams County -- whose district includes Straban Township, where Pastor Gerry Stoltzfoos' church is located -- said he also objects to the prayer policy.

"I personally don't think it's reasonable because our country was founded on Christian-Judeo beliefs. That's who started our government," Moul said. "We should never be ashamed to speak about our Christian beliefs. That's what our prayers are for."

Moul said he supports the right of legislators of all religious backgrounds to invite clergy in as guest chaplains. Legislators have the ability to leave the floor if they find the content of prayers offensive, he said.

"I am extraordinarily tired of the vast majority changing our way of life to accommodate a few," Moul said.

As for the argument that the state could face lawsuits, Moul said simply: "Let 'em sue us."

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