June 2012 Church & State | People & Events


The U.S. Congress has long opened its daily sessions with usually non-sectarian prayers led by chaplains, but a member of the House recently ratcheted things up a bit.

U.S. Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), chair of the House Armed Forces Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, has been opening subcommittee meetings with Christian prayers.

During a March 29 hearing, Akin prayed to “Heavenly Father” to “help us to be wise, help us to be good planners and good stewards.” Congressional Quarterly reported that Akin closed the prayer with, “And we pray that you help us with the somewhat busy schedule this morning, and the votes and all. And I pray in Jesus’ name.”

The prayer is just one of several Akin has offered during official meetings of the subcommittee.

“This is obviously a Christian prayer,” Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn told Congressional Quarterly. “This is a public prayer in a public space in a public event sponsored by and promoted by a public official who either knows or should know that even members of his own subcommittee do not share the same religious background.”

The irony is that Akin’s subcommittee is especially diverse. Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.) is Jewish and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) is Buddhist. Davis and Johnson have not criticized the sectarian invocations, but U.S. Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.), a member of the Armed Services Committee, did.

“Any prayer that starts an official public meeting that pertains to any one particular religion is probably not in good judgment,” Andrews told CQ.

Akin defended his practice, remarking, “We start Congress with a prayer, and I think it’s a good idea to ask the Lord’s blessing. It gives us a sense of being respectful to each other.”

Akin also said that the prayer was a personal one and asserted that his words shouldn’t be taken as representing the whole subcommittee. But AU’s Lynn didn’t buy that, calling the defense “too cute by half.”