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No apology planned over Muslim prayer, says ND House leader Al Carlson

Al Carlson

BISMARCK – North Dakota’s House majority leader said Monday no apology is planned for the decision to stop a Muslim from delivering the chamber’s opening prayer on Ash Wednesday because some members wanted a Christian pastor to give the invocation.

The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations issued a statement Friday calling on North Dakota Republican Party leaders to apologize to Dr. Nadim Koleilat, who ended up delivering the Senate prayer that day.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, stood behind the decision to have Pastor Rich Wyatt of Living Hope Church of the Nazarene in Bismarck switch with Koleilat and deliver the House prayer on the first day of the Lenten season.

“We invited (Koleilat) back and we will do what we can to make the schedule work for him and for us,” he said, adding, “The consensus of the chamber is that was the right thing to do on that day.”

Carlson said they had hoped to have Koleilat return on Wednesday, but the House is going into session early that day and it conflicts with Koleilat’s work schedule. Koleilat is a urology transplant surgeon with Sanford Health in Bismarck.

Wyatt said Monday he hopes to reschedule Koleilat to give the House prayer during the second or third week in March.

Rep. Dwight Kiefert, R-Valley City, one of the House lawmakers whose objections to a Muslim delivering the prayer on Ash Wednesday has attracted national media attention, mentioned Koleilat’s possible return in an email sent to several GOP lawmakers and others on Saturday.

“They have invited him to come back on Wednesday and I am sure the media will all be there to see if I will pray to Allah,” Kiefert stated in the email, posted on Rob Port’s sayanythingblog.com. “I don’t think so, many will not be on the floor. Last Wednesday they blindsided the Senate with him praying.”

Asked Monday if he plans to walk out if Koleilat delivers the House prayer, Kiefert said, “I don’t have any plans at all.”

“I’m a Christian. I pray to Jesus, and that’s our First Amendment right, and that’s all I’m going to say about it,” he said.

Rep. Roscoe Streyle, R-Minot, one of the lawmakers who received the email, said Monday he hadn’t heard of any lawmakers planning to walk out. He called it “a non-issue that’s gotten a little bit blown out of proportion,” and said he has no problem with Koleilat giving the prayer.

“Anybody that’s willing to do that, I’m willing to listen and accept their prayer. I need lots of prayers,” he said.

Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at mnowatzki@forumcomm.com.

Mike Nowatzki
Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.
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