Nov 29, 2001

An official congressional worship service scheduled for the Capitol rotunda Dec. 4 is an inappropriate mixing of religion and government, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, said the Capitol event, which will be closed to the public and the news media, is being orchestrated by U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and his Religious Right allies to promote their fundamentalist version of Christianity.

"If members of Congress want a religious service, they can go to their houses of worship," said Lynn. "The U.S. Capitol is not a revival tent.

"In some countries," continued Lynn, "government leaders make religious decisions for the people, but that's not the case in America. It's especially troubling that this is occurring behind closed doors."

The two-hour "Day of Reconciliation" event is being heavily promoted by several Religious Right organizations. While the occasion is being portrayed as a voluntary prayer service for members of Congress -- the Supreme Court and the president are also invited -- Americans United says there appears to be more to it.

Americans United notes that House Majority Whip DeLay, the driving force behind the resolution that authorized the event, told Religious Right leader James Dobson on his radio show Nov. 26, "This is about the nation that has pushed God out of its institutions, homes and communities, coming back to God and showing God that we are a nation that honors and reveres Him."

The resolution (S. Con. Res. 83) says the prayer service is intended to "humbly seek the blessings of Providence for forgiveness, unity, and charity for all people of the United States." DeLay, an avowed opponent of church-state separation, believes court rulings on school prayer, abortion and other social issues have alienated the nation from God and necessitate national repentance.

Said AU's Lynn, "It is very strange for members of Congress to ask God's forgiveness for court decisions upholding basic constitutional values such as church-state separation. The Supreme Court has not 'pushed God' anywhere; it has simply held that churches, not government officials, are supposed to promote religion."

However, Religious Right leaders such as Dobson, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell hold views similar to DeLay's. Religious Right groups worked on behalf of the resolution setting up the Capitol worship service and are now organizing prayer rallies around the country in conjunction with it. In addition, they are pressuring members of Congress to attend the Capitol event.

After his interview with DeLay, Dobson told his radio audience, "Our only hope is for national revival, and perhaps this event will be the beginning of it. As the people of the United States great desire is that we not only say, 'God save us,' but that we pray 'God forgive us.' We've strayed from the moral principles that He's given us."

Observed AU's Lynn, "If members of Congress feel a need for forgiveness, that's their business. But they shouldn't presume to seek forgiveness for all Americans. It's not the job of Congress to try to orchestrate the spiritual life of America."

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.