Sometimes lawmakers just won’t give up on a bad idea. This week’s bad idea is brought to you by members of Congress who think it would be great to add a Christian prayer to the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
If this sounds familiar to you, that’s because some in Congress have been pushing this misguided measure every year since 2011. The proposal is pretty simple: A prayer given by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on D-Day (June 6, 1944) would be added to the memorial, which opened in 2004.
Roosevelt’s prayer was, in part: “Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace.”
(Ironically that message was fairly non-sectarian, and it’s amusing to see the Religious Right hijacking FDR for its agenda considering he isn’t exactly a beloved conservative figure.)
The prayer proposal has been sponsored over the years by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Rep Bill Johnson (R-Ohio). The legislation in its various incarnations has passed the full House of Representatives once previously, but it has never been passed by the full Senate.
Despite that clearly tepid support, the House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation will hold a hearing on the bill, HR 2175, tomorrow morning. Americans United has opposed this measure for years, and once again AU is discouraging Congress from forcing religious content into a completed, secular memorial.
In a letter sent to the subcommittee before the hearing, AU Legislative Director Maggie Garrett said adding a prayer to the memorial would represent a divisive action that is almost unheard of because completed monuments are so rarely altered after they open to the public.
“Inserting this prayer onto the Memorial would run contrary to the Memorial’s goal of uniting Americans and defy the designers’ judgments, which were ‘painstakingly arrived upon after years of public deliberations and spirited public debate,’” she wrote. “The Memorial, as designed, is purposely short on words in order to evoke a powerful message of unity. And, in contrast to some of the rhetoric that has accompanied this debate, the monument already acknowledges that faith was important to many soldiers during the war. There is no need to take extraordinary steps to reopen the design of the Memorial to add a prayer.”
A coalition of religious and civil liberties organizations, including Americans United, the American Civil Liberties Union, Interfaith Alliance and the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society, also opposes the bill. In a separate letter to the subcommittee, the groups noted that the bill disrespects America’s religious diversity.
“It endorses the false notion that all veterans will be honored by a war memorial that includes a prayer that proponents characterize as reflecting our country’s ‘Judeo-Christian heritage and values,’” the letter said.
When it comes to major wars, legacy matters. Britain is gearing up to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War this year, but endless debates among scholars about that conflict have left Britons struggling with the question of what that war means to them in the context of their own national history.
Do we really want to run into that same problem with World War II by needlessly adding a divisive prayer to the official World War II memorial? American veterans -- like those currently in the armed forces – come from many different religious traditions and some follow no spiritual path at all. Slapping a prayer onto a memorial that honors all those veterans would be an insult to both their service and their sacrifice.
The current memorial, dedicated on May 29, 2004, represents all 16 million people 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.
So let’s hope Congress leaves well enough alone and torpedoes this prayer proposal once and for all.