Jan 24, 2012

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today criticized the House of Representatives for approving two bills promoting the use of religious symbols and prayers at governmental monuments and war memorials.

The House voted to approve H.R. 290, the “War Memorial Protection Act” and H.R. 2070, the “World War II Memorial Prayer Act of 2011.” Both bills are designed to add religious language to monuments or allow sectarian symbols to be used to honor the nation’s war dead.

“These bills dishonor the memory of our country’s brave veterans by drafting them as fodder in yet another divisive ‘culture war,’” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “The House ought to be ashamed of itself. At a time when the nation faces serious economic and public policy problems, I am appalled that House members would waste time on this kind of distraction.”

H.R. 290, introduced by U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) would allow the use of religious symbols in war memorials. Since no law bars such displays in certain settings, critics believe Hunter is trying to find a way to protect the constitutionally problematic display of Christian symbols on government property.

Lawsuits have focused on the Mt. Soledad cross in La Jolla, Calif., and a cross in the Mojave National Preserve. Defenders of the sectarian symbols say they memorialize service personnel of all faiths, but opponents contend that a Christian cross cannot honor those of other religious perspectives.

H.R. 2070 would order federal officials to add a prayer recited by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on D-Day to the World War II Memorial on the National Mall. The Bureau of Land Management opposes the move, noting that the memorial is complete and should not be tinkered with.

Lynn urged the Senate to ignore the bills.

“Brave men and women of many faiths and none have given their lives for our country,” Lynn said. “We honor them by respecting America’s great tradition of religious diversity, not by allowing Congress to hijack the language and symbols of one faith and impose them on all.”