Veterans Day Villainy: FDR Prayer Bill Is Shameless Partisan Stunt

I hope the day will come when religious liberty and true patriotism stand as principles we all share, not battlegrounds in a culture war.

Religious Right zealots are nothing if not inventive when it comes to cooking up bogus culture-war skirmishes and exploiting them for political gain.

Their latest scheme, however, is particularly appalling.

U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) has introduced H.R. 2070, a bill ordering the Secretary of the Interior to add a Franklin Delano Roosevelt prayer to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.  Roosevelt offered that prayer on D-Day as the United States began the military operation that liberated Europe.

On Nov. 3, the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forest and Public Lands held a hearing on Johnson’s “World War II Memorial Prayer Act of 2011.” Robert Abbey, the director of the Bureau of Land Management, said the memorial’s design is complete and alterations to it are inappropriate.

That was all the Religious Right and their congressional allies needed to spring into action. This gave them an opportunity to bash the Obama administration and attack its supposed hostility to religion and patriotism.

Johnson issued a statement saying, “It is unconscionable that the Obama Administration would stand in the way of honoring our nation’s distinguished World War II veterans. President Roosevelt’s prayer gave solace, comfort, and strength to our nation and our brave warriors as we fought against tyranny and oppression.”

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, piled on, telling Fox News, "This is further evidence that the administration has created an environment that is hostile towards American history -- but in particular towards Christianity. I hope America wakes up and realizes what this administration is doing to this country and how they want to radically and fundamentally change America."

The Rev. Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association asked its members to “take action” and send an email to BLM Director Abbey.

“Urge him to immediately drop any opposition to the World War II Memorial Prayer Act, apologize for his un-patriotic stance and publicly announce his support for the bill,” said the AFA.

What a disgrace! I don’t know which is more deplorable – that supporters of this bill are using prayer as a political weapon and fomenting religious strife among our nation’s veterans or that they’re undermining true patriotism by making it a partisan cudgel.

In addition to the immediate political benefits, the Religious Right strategists also sees placement of a prayer at this memorial as one more step in their crusade to make this an officially Christian nation. (Ironically, FDR’s prayer was quite nonsectarian in character, and he is more often maligned by the Religious Right than celebrated.)

American veterans -- like our currently serving troops – come from many different religious traditions and some follow no spiritual path at all. The current memorial, dedicated on May 29, 2004, represents all 16 million who served in our armed forces during World War II. It doesn’t need to be altered to serve some partisan political agenda or the theocratic goals of the Religious Right.

For shame, Rep. Johnson. You and your Religious Right allies are really stooping to a new low with this one.

Today is Veterans Day. I join all Americans in thanking our veterans for their service to our country.  You fought for our nation and the principles enshrined in our U.S. Constitution, not the least of which is religious freedom for all.

I hope the day will come when religious liberty and true patriotism stand as principles we all share, not battlegrounds in a culture war.