Americans United for Separation of Church and State today issued the following statement about Congress’s decision to allow Billy Graham to lie in honor at the U.S. Capitol:
We respect the fact that many people revere Billy Graham because he brought them deep spiritual meaning and inspiration.
However, Graham also did things that are greatly troubling. For example, he made derogatory statements about Jews, African Americans and LGBTQ Americans. The hurt and harm caused by those statements cannot be forgotten even though he may have later offered apologies. Many also feel that Graham spent much of his life giving his stamp of approval to politics in a partisan way, despite the fact that he ultimately met with Democratic and Republican presidents alike. Later in life, when asked about regrets, he said he “would have steered clear of politics.”
Our position is that Graham should not lie in honor. We don’t say this to criticize a man who has died, but because the question of who should receive this rare honor warrants public discussion. The privilege of lying in state (traditionally reserved for military officers or elected American officials) has previously been granted to only 33 people in total, 11 of whom were presidents. Only three people in our 242-year history have been extended the privilege of lying in honor: two U.S. Capitol police officers who sacrificed their lives protecting our country and civil rights icon Rosa Parks. These people engaged in brave and selfless acts focused on protecting and defending American ideals and institutions. Graham’s primary self-described mission was less expansive. As he put it, his goal was to “just keep preaching the Gospel.”
Such a high government honor for someone solely for their work spreading an interpretation of one faith offends the spirit of our First Amendment’s guarantee that government will not take actions that endorse or promote religion.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.