June 2024 Church & State Magazine - June 2024

Americans United opposes statue of Billy Graham in U.S. Capitol


PASADENA, CA - NOVEMBER 20:  Billy Graham preaches on the third night of the Greater Los Angeles Billy Graham Crusade on November 20, 2004 in Pasadena, California. Tonight's service uses gospel rock bands to reach out to young people. This weekend marks the 55th anniversary of 86-year-old Billy Graham's first crusade to evangelize in Pasadena.

Graham: honored in U.S. Capitol (David McNew/Getty Images)

Americans United last month announced opposition to the erection of a statue of the Rev. Billy Graham in the U.S. Capitol.

“Recognition in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall is a unique honor that should be reserved for those who most purely embody our American ideals of freedom and equality for all. The late Rev. Billy Graham — with his history of advancing Christian Nationalism, making antisemitic statements, crusading against LGBTQ+ equality and a less-than-stellar record on civil rights for Black Americans — does not deserve this honor,” said AU President and CEO Rachel Laser.

Each state is permitted to erect two statues of important figures from their state in the National Statuary Hall. A few years ago, officials in North Carolina decided to replace one of their statues, which depicted Gov. Charles Aycock, who was an avowed white supremacist.

“North Carolina officials were right to remove the statue of a white supremacist from the U.S. Capitol. But we should not swap one divisive, exclusionary figure for another; two wrongs don’t make a right,” Laser observed.

The Graham statue was unveiled May 16 at a ceremony attended by House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.).

“Speaker Mike Johnson should remember that the U.S. Capitol is the People’s House — a potent symbol of American democracy and its constitutional promise of church-state separation,” Laser said. “The Capitol is not Johnson’s personal church, but he’s blurring the line by relocating the National Prayer Breakfast to Statuary Hall and now presiding over the installation of a statue to honor a controversial Christian pastor.”

She concluded, “We need a national recommitment to the separation of church and state to protect our democracy and ensure freedom without favor and equality without exception under the law.”

In her book, White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America, Anthea Butler, associate professor of religion at the University of Pennsylvania, notes that Graham, given his national following, could have played a major role in advancing civil rights. Instead, he mostly sat on the sidelines.

Graham, Butler wrote, “recognized the problem of racial injustice and evoked the pain caused by unjust social norms, but he was unwilling to break ranks with the white status quo.” She wrote that he “bemoaned racism as a sin yet offered only small, cosmetic adjustments to change the ethos” and said his record on civil rights was marked by “characteristic waffling.”

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