Forty-one Members of the House of Representatives signed an amicus curiae brief filed by the American Center for Law and Justice and the American Catholic Lawyers Association supporting the national motto, “In God We Trust,” on U.S. currency. Representative Forbes, founder and Co-Chairman of the Prayer Caucus, was joined by Representatives Aderholt, Blackburn, Cassidy, Conaway, Jeff Duncan, John Duncan, Fleming, Flores, Franks, Garrett, Gohmert, Hartzler, Huelskamp, Huizenga, Hultgren, Johnson, Walter Jones, Kline, LaMalfa, Lamborn, Lankford, McIntyre, Miller, Neugebauer, Nunnelee, Palazzo, Pearce, Pittenger, Pitts, Posey, Roe, Salmon, Stutzman, Terry, Thompson, Walberg, Westmoreland, Joe Wilson, Wittman, and Wolf.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) recently filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Treasury Department, claiming that the inscription of the national motto, “In God We Trust,” on U.S. currency is an unconstitutional violation of the Establishment Clause. Attorney Michael Newdow is representing FFRF and 19 other plaintiffs who, according to their brief, feel they are forced to proselytize for a deity in whom they do not they believe each time they handle money. The case is currently pending before the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.
The brief the Prayer Caucus members signed articulates how “In God We Trust” is a reflection of the historical fact that America was founded on a belief in God and shows that courts have consistently upheld the constitutionality of the motto. “Under existing case law, there is very little upon which to stake an argument that inscribing the national motto on the nation’s currency violates the Establishment Clause. All authority on point is against such a contention. The Establishment Clause was never intended as a guarantee that a person will not be exposed to religion or religious symbols on public property, and the Supreme Court has rejected previous attempts to eradicate all symbols of this country’s religious heritage from the public’s view.”
This is not the first time FFRF has attempted to bring suit contesting the motto’s constitutionality. A similar challenge by Mr. Newdow was rejected by the Supreme Court in 2011 after the Ninth Circuit upheld the motto.
On November 1, 2011, the House of Representatives passed H.Con.Res.13, a resolution reaffirming “In God We Trust” as the national motto and encouraging its display in public buildings and government institutions. The resolution passed by a vote of 396 to 9. Members of the Prayer Caucus will continue to ensure that evidence of our nation’s spiritual heritage is preserved in the public square.
The greatness of a nation comes from its foundation. Today marks the sixty-second annual observance of the National Day of Prayer, and there could be no more appropriate time than today to acknowledge the action that has most shaped our country―prayer.
The foundation of America, from the Revolution to the Constitutional Convention, was steeped in prayer. When the first Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in 1774, their first act was to ask a minister to open in prayer. As our war-tattered nation was struggling to hold fast in the wake of the fight for freedom and the members of the Constitutional Convention found themselves quagmired in fighting and disagreements, they turned to prayer. Benjamin Franklin called on the members to begin each meeting in prayer, famously stating,
I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth- that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?’ We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that ‘except the Lord build the House they labor in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel.
Only after the members heeded Mr. Franklin’s advice, was the world’s greatest founding document, the Constitution, born out of the ashes of war and disagreement.
Presidential recognition of the vital role of prayer in the continuance of our freedoms has a strong pedigree. As our nation was on the verge of splitting in half in 1863, President Lincoln proclaimed a national day of prayer, that “the united cry of the nation will be heard on high and answered with blessings no less than the pardon of our national sins and the restoration of our now divided and suffering country to its former happy condition of unity and peace.” On the eve of D-Day in 1944 as General Eisenhower and his troops carried out the perilous invasion of Normandy, President Franklin D. Roosevelt led the nation in prayer. Since the inauguration of President Washington in 1789, there have been well over two hundred fifty Presidential calls to prayer.
The first National Day of Prayer as we now know it was passed by Congress on April 17, 1952, and called for the President to “set aside and proclaim a suitable day each year . . . on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.” On May 9, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the current version of the law, calling on the President to issue a proclamation each year designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer.
Today, we stand at another critical moment in our nation’s history. We must decide whether we will continue to honor the principles on which our nation was founded, or allow our religious freedoms to be squelched in the wake of a cultural shift that champions equality and tolerance, even as it continues to silence the voice of faith everywhere except the most private of places.
On this National Day of Prayer, let us continue to build on the foundation laid for us in faith by our Founding Fathers and join together today in prayer for our leaders, for our communities, and for our spiritual welfare. Let us stand up and defend our heritage, so that all who follow in our footsteps will find we were faithful to the God who blessed our nation because it was founded in prayer.
Congressman Forbes is Founder and Co-chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus.
The following piece by Rep. J. Randy Forbes, Founder and Co-Chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, was featured in the Washington Times today.
America’s New Government-Imposed Religion
By Rep. J. Randy Forbes
Catholic adoption agencies have been forced to close their doors in Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., because their religious beliefs about marriage were deemed unacceptable by their jurisdictions.
A graduate student in Michigan was expelled from a counseling program because her religious beliefs about marriage were deemed unacceptable by school officials.
Christian pharmacists in Illinois were told to find other professions because their religious beliefs regarding when life begins were deemed unacceptable by the state.
Private business owners are facing enormous fines because their beliefs about when life begins have been deemed unacceptable by the federal government.
Pastor Louie Giglio did not deliver the closing prayer at President Obama’s inauguration ceremony because his religious beliefs about marriage were deemed unacceptable by the administration.
In January, our nation celebrated Religious Freedom Day, commemorating the anniversary of the passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, in which Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Be it enacted by the General Assembly, that no man shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion.”
Compared with others around the world, people of faith in America enjoy extraordinary freedoms. Our lives are not in danger. We do not face imprisonment or torture for holding unpopular convictions.
Yet when people of faith are restricted from fully participating in society — owning businesses, entering the medical profession or providing much-needed charitable services — an intolerable trade-off has occurred. The government has exceeded its boundary, and the figurative wall between church and state must be strengthened.
Our government is powerless without “the consent of the governed.” This uniquely American design, explicit in the founding document of the United States, was devised in part to ensure that unless an individual consents, the government may not force him to violate the sacred relationship between him and his God. This freedom of conscience was secured in the First Amendment, guaranteeing that Americans could exercise their faith without government interference.
What resulted was an unprecedented melting pot of thoughts, beliefs and ideas. The success of the American experiment was evidenced by the immigrants drawn to our shores in search of this shining beacon of tolerance, this refuge where individuals could freely live out their convictions without fear of government retribution.
Thomas Jefferson recognized the sacrosanct relationship between God and man when he penned a letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802, coining the “wall of separation between Church and State.” The Baptists had written to the newly elected president expressing concern that religious freedoms were being treated by the state of Connecticut “as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights.”
Jefferson’s response fell wholly on the side of religious freedom: “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.”
Two hundred years later, this important concept has been distorted into a tool used to sanitize school classrooms, war memorials and courtrooms of references to faith. Its misapplication has led the public to believe that Jefferson’s intent was to confine religion to the four walls of the church. Context reveals, however, that Jefferson’s wall actually was meant to constrain the government, ensuring religious freedoms are treated as “inalienable rights” rather than “favors granted.”
The tide has turned, and we have begun to see the emergence of a state-created orthodoxy. It deems support for traditional marriage unacceptable. It discredits those who believe that life begins at conception. It disfavors their faith — held for centuries by their predecessors — and creates a regulatory framework to prevent them from fully participating in the public square.
When the government says, “You can believe whatever you want, but you will be penalized if you exercise those beliefs,” we have entered dangerous territory. We cannot allow a religious litmus test to determine who may participate in American life. We must defend the Constitution not only in form, but also in effect.
Read more: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/feb/8/americas-new-government-imposed-religion/
Forty-nine former and current Members of the House of Representatives signed an amicus curiae brief filed by the Family Research Council (FRC) supporting legislative prayer. The brief asks the Supreme Court to take up the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway and reverse the lower court’s ruling, which struck down the New York town’s policy of opening board meetings with a prayer. The town allowed private citizens to volunteer to offer prayers at the beginning of board meetings. Individuals from any religious tradition were allowed to participate, and the town did not regulate the content of the prayers. Nevertheless, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit struck down the prayer practice as unconstitutional, saying the town should have proactively recruited non-Christians to give prayers to provide a more “balanced” picture over time. Although the court purportedly upheld the right of towns to have such prayers before public meetings, it provided little guidance for municipalities within its jurisdiction who wish to continue our nation’s rich legacy of legislative prayer. The court concluded by effectively saying that it could not even articulate a prayer policy that would be held constitutional: “. . . we do not aim to specify what the Establishment Clause allows . . . . It is true that contextual inquiries like this one can give only limited guidance to municipalities that wish to maintain a legislative prayer practice and still comply with the mandates of the Establishment Clause.”
The Town of Greece appealed the decision, asking the Supreme Court to take up the case and clarify the law on this important issue. The brief filed on behalf of the Members of Congress supports the town’s plea, enumerating the longstanding practice of legislative prayer in the U.S. House of Representatives. The brief explains that the Second Circuit’s ruling would render the House’s 224-year practice unconstitutional, and concludes by asking the Supreme Court to take up the case and reverse the Second Circuit’s ruling, as it cannot possibly be the rule the Constitution requires.
One of President Obama’s first moves in 2013 was to sign into law the FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), legislation that authorizes and prioritizes funding for the Department of Defense and other select national security programs. Yet along with his signature, President Obama issued a statement criticizing several portions of the bill—including the religious freedom protections for military chaplains and other servicemembers (Section 533). The President called the provisions “unnecessary and ill-advised,” and said “The Secretary of Defense will ensure that the implementing regulations do not permit or condone discriminatory actions that compromise good order and discipline or otherwise violate military codes of conduct. My Administration remains fully committed to continuing the successful implementation of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and to protecting the rights of gay and lesbian service members; Section 533 will not alter that.” Regulations issued by the Department of Defense will determine specifically how the conscience protections are implemented.
The repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the military in 2011 raised concerns that servicemembers whose religious beliefs conflicted with homosexual behavior would face discrimination and disapproval. Despite the President’s statement to the contrary, the religious freedom protections contained in the NDAA do not authorize discriminatory actions. Instead, they require the Armed Forces to accommodate servicemembers’ religious convictions, as long as they do not “threaten good order and discipline.” The language also prohibits the military from using a person’s beliefs as the basis for adverse personnel action, and ensures that chaplains will not be forced “to perform any rite, ritual, or ceremony that is contrary to [their] conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs.”
Members of the Prayer Caucus worked aggressively to ensure that the final version of the defense authorization bill included these key religious freedom protections. While President Obama has indicated his eagerness to protect the rights of gay and lesbian servicemembers, one also hopes he will support measures to ensure citizens need not leave their faith at home when they volunteer to serve.
During the 112th Congress, Members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus were at the forefront on initiatives to protect religious freedom in America and preserve our nation’s rich spiritual heritage. Members introduced legislation, wrote letters, and delivered remarks before many audiences supporting these fundamental principles. They called on executive agencies and officials in the military to preserve the freedom of people of faith to operate in a manner consistent with their religious beliefs. In addition, they continued meeting each week in the U.S. Capitol building to pray for our nation.
In the 112th Congress in Review, you will find specific actions taken by Members to:
RECOGNIZE the IMPORTANCE of FAITH in AMERICA’S FOUNDING and HISTORY
PROTECT PUBLIC PRAYER
SUPPORT FAITH-BASED ORGANIZATIONS and RELIGIOUS STUDENT GROUPS
PRESERVE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM for SERVICEMEMBERS
DEFEND AGAINST ATTEMPTS to REMOVE RELIGIOUS SYMBOLS from the PUBLIC SQUARE
A federal judge in California ruled that the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association (MSMA) may not be excluded from the long-pending litigation over the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial in San Diego. MSMA constructed and maintains the memorial, yet reports emerged this summer that the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the ACLU were negotiating a compromise to end the legal battle over the monument—without allowing MSMA to participate in the settlement negotiations. The MSMA filed a motion to intervene and the judge last week granted the request, allowing the MSMA to continue as a party in the case.
In January of 2011 a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit held that the cross’s presence on federal land was unconstitutional. Then in June of 2012, the Supreme Court announced that it would not review the decision; however, Justice Alito issued a statement saying the appeal to the Supreme Court may have been premature. He indicated that the Court might reconsider the case after a final order on the memorial’s fate is issued by the federal district court.
An attorney for the Liberty Institute, the religious liberty law firm representing MSMA, responded to the judge’s recent decision saying “Through the years, the Association has tirelessly fought to preserve this longstanding memorial. We look forward to continuing to defend and work alongside the other parties to achieve a resolution that will preserve this memorial cross and continue to honor the selfless sacrifice and service of our nation’s veterans.”
Members of the Prayer Caucus previously joined the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) in submitting an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court, defending the presence of a cross at the memorial. The veterans association’s continued participation in the case will ensure that the voices of those who sacrificed so much for our country continue to be represented.
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Congressman J. Randy Forbes, Founder
Congressman Mike McIntyre, Co-Chairman
For a complete list of Members of the Congressional
Prayer Caucus, click here.
Contact the Congressional Prayer Caucus Amy Vitale, Amy.Vitale@mail.house.gov