The following piece by Congressman Forbes was featured in the National Review on May 30, 2014.
The “9/11 Cross” should remain, as should the other crosses that memorialize our war dead.
By J. Randy Forbes
It stood for weeks, a symbol to many of the loss and pain a city had endured, and of hope that would carry them through. The Ground Zero cross is now a part of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, which officially opened to the public on May 21, but its inclusion in the museum as a historical artifact that had great significance for the first responders, rescue workers, and volunteers from that great tragedy has not gone unchallenged.
The Ground Zero cross was moved from the rubble and displayed near Ground Zero until July 23, 2011, when it was transferred to the September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York City. A group swiftly filed a lawsuit, arguing that the cross does not belong in a public museum and demanding that it be removed.
A federal district court dismissed the case, stating that “no reasonable observer would view the artifact as endorsing Christianity.” The case was appealed and heard by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in March 2014, and a final decision is pending.
The Ground Zero cross is just one example of the many legal challenges that have threatened memorials around the country. Another memorial — the Mount Soledad Cross in California — has been the center of a legal battle for more than 20 years. The cross was dedicated in 1953 to honor those who gave their lives in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. Many, including members of Congress, have risen to defend the cross, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the cross was unconstitutional. The fate of the cross has been appealed to the Supreme Court.
One of the most recent challenges has arisen in Maryland, where a roadside cross known as the Memorial Peace Cross, built in 1925, honors the men from Prince George’s County who gave their lives to defend freedom in World War I. The plaintiffs who are challenging the cross state in their complaint that the cross upsets them and that they do not wish to see it in the future.
What is it that makes memorial crosses — erected to honor the memories of soldiers, victims, and many others — so controversial? They are controversial because they offend a few, despite the fact that they have great meaning to many who know they are built to give our thanks to all who served. Though many of these memorials have stood for decades, only recently have they become the subject of constitutional controversy.
In upholding the constitutionality of one such memorial in 2010, in Salazar v. Buono, Justice Kennedy, writing for the Supreme Court, noted:
[A] Latin cross . . . is a symbol often used to honor and respect those whose heroic acts, noble contributions, and patient striving help secure an honored place in history for this Nation and its people. Here, one Latin cross in the desert evokes far more than religion. It evokes thousands of small crosses in foreign fields marking the graves of Americans who fell in battles, battles whose tragedies are compounded if the fallen are forgotten.
As the Supreme Court affirmed this May, the Establishment Clause protects Americans from government-coerced religion. The Constitution has never promised the right not to be offended by another — such a ridiculous standard would turn the protections of the First Amendment on their head. If offense is truly our litmus test, then we must not only forgo the freedom of religious expression but also supporting our favorite sports teams, robustly debating public policy, and discussing various theories of the origin of the universe.
We live in a pluralistic society that encompasses a great diversity of beliefs. The protection of that diversity depends on our ability to maintain a cultural and legal structure that protects and encourages the expression of many different beliefs. These memorial crosses honor the fallen — not a few or most, but all — and they must be protected.
— J. Randy Forbes represents Virginia’s fourth congressional district in the House of Representatives.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the constitutionality of the national motto, “In God We Trust,” on U.S. currency, stating that the motto’s inclusion in the design of U.S. currency is “a reference to out religious heritage.” The decision affirmed a federal district court’s dismissal of the case in September, 2013.
The Second Circuit noted several times that the “[Supreme] Court’s Justices have distinguished our currency from improper governmental endorsements of religion,” repeatedly indicating that the statutes requiring that the motto be included on U.S. Currency “have a secular purpose and neither advance not inhibit religion.” As such, the Second Circuit upheld the dismissal of the challenge.
Forty-one Members of the House of Representatives signed an amicus curiae brief to the federal district court, supporting the motto and articulating how “In God We Trust” is a reflection of the historical fact that America was founded on a belief in God. “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 the fifth time the constitutionality of the national motto has been challenged, and the fifth time such a challenge has failed. Similar decisions have been issued by the Fifth, Ninth, Tenth, and D.C. Circuits.
In 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.
On May 9, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts upheld the constitutionality of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.
There have been at least three failed attempts to challenge ‘under God’ in the Pledge. Unable to sustain a claim under the federal constitution, anonymous atheist parents of three Massachusetts schoolchildren challenged the Pledge under the Equal Rights Amendment of the Massachusetts constitution.
Massachusetts law requires that the Pledge be recited in public schools every day, however no child is required to recite it. A student may abstain from the recitation and without providing a reason. The parents argued that the phrase demonstrates favoritism for religion and marginalizes those who would disagree, despite that fact that no child is required to recite the Pledge or to give a reason for refusal to do so.
The court upheld the constitutionality of the Pledge without dissent, concluding that “the recitation of the pledge, which is entirely voluntary, violates neither the [state] Constitution nor the [state] statute.” The court reiterated that it is “a fundamentally patriotic exercise, not a religious one. . . . The fact that a school or other public entity operates a voluntary program or offers an activity that offends the religious beliefs of one or more individuals, and leaves them feeling ‘stigmatized’ or ‘excluded’ as a result, does not mean that the program or activity necessarily violates equal protection principles.”
Co-Chairman of the Prayer Caucus, Congressman Mike McIntyre, and Congressman Steven Palazzo led 38 Members of Congress in an amicus curiae brief defending the phrase in the Pledge. In response to the decision, Congressman McIntyre stated, “With this decision, we have once again affirmed the strong underpinnings of faith in our nation's heritage! This is a great victory for religious liberty for people of all faiths. I am appreciative of all the Members of Congress who joined our efforts to defend the national Pledge of Allegiance and its vital role as a national symbol of unity. We are indeed one nation, under God!”
The Members’ brief states, “Congress has seen fit to define national symbols that reflect our nation’s heritage and affirm constitutional principles. The national Pledge of Allegiance is one of America’s most treasured national symbols, and it serves an invaluable unifying purpose.”
As a national symbol, the Pledge serves to unify Americans in remembrance of the fragile and precious freedoms we have in this country. First written in 1892, it has been a part of American history for over a century. Congress officially adopted the Pledge in 1942, and in 1954 Congress amended it to include the phrase ‘under God.’
Congress reaffirmed its commitment to the Pledge in 2002, specifically noting the historical importance of faith in American history, from Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence to President Lincoln’s words in the Gettysburg Address. Members of the Caucus remain committed to protecting the rich spiritual heritage of American history.
Reps. Forbes and McIntyre also introduced H.Res. 547, a resolution affirming the National Day of Prayer and the role that prayer has played in our Nation’s history. The resolution “encourages all the people of the United States to come together to pray and reaffirm the importance prayer has played in the Nation’s heritage,” noting several calls to prayer from Presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower , John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.
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.
Members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus remain committed to honoring the National Day of Prayer, and the role that faith and prayer have played in strengthening our Nation.
The following piece by Congressman Forbes and Congressman McIntyre was featured in the National Review on April 30, 2014 National Review.
United through Prayer
By J. Randy Forbes (VA-04) & Mike McIntyre (NC-07)
It is easy to tire of the divisive nature of politics. The ability of civil disagreements to drive a wedge between people of good will is nothing new; it is an age-old challenge, and one that our nation’s founders struggled with as well. The theme for this year’s National Day of Prayer, which we will celebrate on Thursday, May 1, is “One Voice, United in Prayer.” As we honor the National Day of Prayer, it is important to remember that throughout our nation’s history, in times of sorrow and of joy, prayer has united and strengthened America as a people.
After the American Revolution, our nation’s leaders were deeply divided over the way in which this new experiment in democracy should be governed. A first attempt at forming a civil structure under the Articles of Confederation was failing and a convention was called to address the problem.
Though they all had fought for the shared ideal of freedom in the Revolution, the delegates at the Constitutional Convention agreed very little about what structure of government would best preserve their hard-won freedom. Disagreements and bickering threatened to undermine the new nation almost as soon as it had begun. Amidst the controversy, Benjamin Franklin urged that the delegates appoint religious leaders to open each session with prayer. Franklin noted in his appeal that, during the war with Britain, they had prayed daily for protection, and yet in a time of peace they had forgotten the need to seek such protection and wisdom.
Prayer is not a tonic that will make all leaders see eye to eye, but it is an act of faith that has unified us as a nation since our inception. Corporate prayer can unify us despite our disagreements by reminding us that, while we may disagree about what paths or policies will best continue to support and secure our freedoms, we must recognize where we have shared motivations to preserve that freedom. Despite our disagreements, we can be one voice, united in prayer as we strive to overcome the challenges that lie before us.
Over the course of American history, presidential calls to prayer have alone numbered over 130 proclamations. The first presidential call to prayer was issued by George Washington on October 3, 1789. He wrote, “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor.”
In 1952, under President Harry Truman, Congress made an annual National Day of Prayer a permanent fixture. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed an amendment to the law, designating the first Thursday in May of each year as the official National Day of Prayer. This year marks the 63rd annual observance of the National Day of Prayer. Politics continues to be divisive — there is nothing new under the sun — but prayer has helped in the past to overcome these obstacles, and prayer will help us to overcome again.
We need to recognize the uniting power of prayer. That is why, as co-chairmen of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, we introduced a bipartisan resolution, H.Res. 547, supporting the National Day of Prayer and urging all Americans to come together to pray and to reaffirm the importance prayer has had in our nation’s history. By recalling historic national calls to prayer from Presidents Washington, Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Clinton, and George W. Bush, this resolution serves as a reminder of the many ways that prayer has united and strengthened the American people.
We will continue to disagree over courses of action, but we can bridge those disagreements and overcome these certain challenges by uniting in prayer.
The following piece by Senator John Boozman (AR) and Congressman Randy Forbes (VA-04) was featured on National Review this month.
The Basic Right of a Free People
By John Boozman & J. Randy Forbes
“Religious freedom is no luxury, but is a basic right of a free people.” It is “one of the cornerstones of our democracy” and one of our country’s most “cherished traditions.”
These are the words of then-Representative Charles Schumer as he championed his bill, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), on the floor of the House in 1993.
The Supreme Court had struck a blow to religious freedom in 1993 in Employment Division v. Smith by lowering the standard of judicial review for government infringements on religious free exercise. In a rare show of robust bipartisanship, Congress responded by overwhelmingly passing RFRA. President Clinton observed on signing the law that “our Founders . . . knew that religion helps to give our people the character without which a democracy cannot survive.”
This month, the Supreme Court has a second shot at rectifying its decision in Smith — this time, with the aid of RFRA — when it considers two challenges to the HHS mandate, from Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood.
Few freedoms were more valuable to those who settled this nation than the freedom of conscience. The drafters of our Constitution understood that throughout history leaders in civil government, “being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others.”
The greatness of our Constitution lies in its design to protect a multiplicity of opinions from being silenced in favor of the agendas of the reigning governmental power. By passing RFRA, Congress ensured that the government could not limit the exercise of religious beliefs without clearing a significant hurdle: the burden of proving that the measure serves a compelling government interest and cannot be met through a less-restrictive method.
Freedom of conscience extends well beyond where a person worships. It encompasses a person’s whole being — who he is, how he acts, and the daily decisions he makes. It can include nothing less than the way a person lives all aspects of her life, from her private life to her public life and commercial conduct.
The First Amendment guarantees that we have freedom to live our lives according to our religious beliefs and moral convictions, free from government coercion. An individual does not abandon this freedom simply because he enters the stream of commerce. And yet, that is exactly what the administration is trying to force on businesses like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga under the HHS mandate.
The importance of protecting this standard is demonstrated by the more than 50 amicus briefs — nearly three times as many as filed by the opposition — in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, from sources including 107 members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, who have urged the Supreme Court to strike down the HHS mandate as unconstitutional because the government cannot meet its required burden of proof under RFRA.
As a nation, we should insist that our laws should encourage and support, not penalize, citizens who seek to consistently adhere to their moral convictions. In the words of President Clinton, we must “respect one another’s faiths [and] fight to the death to preserve the rights of every American to practice whatever convictions he or she has.”
It is these rights that RFRA protects. It is this freedom that the Supreme Court must uphold, so that we each may live, as George Washington wrote, by “the little spark of celestial fire called conscience.”
During 2013, 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 2013 Year in Review, you will find specific actions taken by Members to:
Recognize the Importance of Faith in America’s Founding and Subsequent History
Defend the Right of Free Exercise of Religion
Protect Public Prayer
Preserve Religious Freedom for Servicemembers
Defend Against Attempts to Remove Religious Symbols from the Public Square
View the document online by clicking the image above or accessing it here.
Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (MO-04) recently let Members in a special order hour, honoring the importance of religious freedom in the military. She was joined by Reps. Doug Collins (GA-09), John Fleming (LA-04), Doug LaMalfa (CA-01), Tim Huelskamp (KS-01), Doug Lamborn (CO-05), Alan Nunnelee (MS-01), Roger Williams (TX-25), Louie Gohmert (TX-01), Kerry Bentivolio (MI-11), and Randy Hultgren (IL-14). Congressman Randy Forbes (VA-04) submitted comments for the record, which may be viewed here. You can view the entire hour here.
“Faith has been important to the armed services and to people of this country from the beginning. And it is just as important now to our men and women in uniform as it was back at the beginning of our country,” stated in her opening remarks. “But yet their ability to express their religious beliefs is being attacked, from forces outside and forces within.”
There has been an increasing concern that about the ability of servicemembers to freely express their religious beliefs. These concerns wereheightened after President Obama called the conscience protections that Members included in the National Defense Authorization act “unnecessary and ill-advised.” Congress is currently considering a new provision to strengthen these conscience protections.
Echoing these concerns for religious freedom in the military, Congressman Randy Hultgren stated, “No one should be forced to choose between service to country and his or her faith. And we must ensure that men and women in uniform have the ability to practice that faith without fear of reprimand.”
Members of the Prayer Caucus will continue to ensure that servicemembers are not forced to leave their faith at home when they volunteer to serve.
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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