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.
The following piece by Reps. J. Randy Forbes (VA-04) and Steve Scalise (LA-01) was featured in Charisma this week.
Religious Freedom is a Sacred Right
Nov. 20, 2013
By Randy Forbes and Steve Scalise
Religious freedom is one of the founding principles of our great nation. Cemented in the First Amendment, the freedom to express our faith forms the very bedrock of our constitutional rights.
Though the Supreme Court has affirmed that legislative prayer is constitutional under the Establishment Clause, lower courts have for years been at odds over the proper standard by which state and municipal policies governing legislative prayer should be measured. This fall, the Supreme Court has the chance to set the record straight.
In 1983, the Supreme Court unequivocally upheld the practice of opening legislative sessions with prayer, citing an “unambiguous and unbroken history” of this tradition. For years, the town of Greece, N.Y., opened its board meetings with a prayer. That storied tradition is now in jeopardy.
Despite the fact that the town permitted anyone of any religious background to offer a prayer, including a Jewish man, a Baha'i leader, and a Wiccan priestess, the lower court ruled that the town’s method of offering prayers violated the Constitution. The Supreme Court will issue a decision in this case early next year. As members of Congress, we will not look the other way in the face of this challenge to such an important and historic tradition.
Washington lawmakers have a unique interest in the outcome of the case. For more than two centuries, Congress has opened its legislative sessions with prayer. It is a rich tradition that began with the First Continental Congress, even before the Revolution or the drafting of the Constitution.
If the Supreme Court upholds the lower court’s ruling, it will overrule the way in which Congress has opened its legislative sessions with prayer for centuries. That is why we led 85 members of Congress in an amicus brief urging the court to uphold the constitutional prerogative of elected bodies to pray before meetings.
Prayer provides a way for members of Congress to solemnize our proceedings and find unity in an environment often polarized by division and controversy. The importance of prayer transcends politics. This truth is reflected in the 26 amicus briefs that were filed in support of the town of Greece, including a bipartisan amicus brief filed by 34 members of the U.S. Senate and an amicus brief filed by the Obama administration.
People from all over the world seek the religious protections guaranteed by our Constitution. All Americans should be free to practice their religion, and the United States should remain a nation that is respectful and tolerant of those wishing to profess their faith in a public manner. It is vital that deliberative bodies from Congress to local municipal boards remain free to invite the rich tradition of prayer into their meetings without the constant threat of lawsuits.
Religious freedom is one of the pillars this great nation was founded upon. On our watch, we will not let that pillar collapse.
Congressman Randy Forbes represents Virginia's Fourth Congressional District and is the co-chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus. Congressman Steve Scalise represents Louisiana’s First Congressional District and is the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a group of conservative lawmakers in the U.S. House.
Today, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Town of Greece v. Galloway, a case challenging the constitutionality of opening legislative sessions with prayer.
Eighty-five Members of the House of Representatives signed an amicus curiae brief with the Supreme Court in August, supporting the constitutional practice of legislatures opening their sessions with prayer. The brief points out that, though “Congress opens its daily sessions with legislative prayer, a practice that is fully consistent with the Establishment Clause,” this “longstanding prayer practice would fail under the tests promulgated by the Second Circuit in this case and the Fourth Circuit in previous cases.”
The Town of Greece has traditionally opened its public meetings with prayer. Anyone who wished to volunteer to pray was welcome, regardless of their religious affiliation. In 2008 however, Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed suit on behalf of two citizens who claimed the prayers were unconstitutional.
The Second Circuit overruled the district court’s decision upholding the prayers, holding that despite a highly inclusive prayer policy, public prayer before the town’s meetings was unconstitutional because too many of the prayers were Christian. The court based its decision on perception rather than policy, ignoring the fact that the town’s prayer policy allows any volunteer to provide a prayer before meetings, including individuals of no faith.
In response to today’s oral argument, Founder and Co-Chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus Congressman Forbes issued the following statement:
“Today the Supreme Court considered a vital question: under what circumstances may a legislative body begin its sessions with prayer? Our nation can trace the time-honored tradition of opening legislative sessions with prayer back to the First Continental Congress. However, today the Court was asked to make a radical, unwarranted departure from the Constitution. By asking the Court to uphold the Second Circuit’s opinion, the individuals challenging the town’s prayer practice asked the Court to dramatically expand the legal test for determining an unconstitutional prayer.
During oral argument, some of the Justices expressed concern over imposing too much government intervention in guiding the composition of prayers. Justice Scalia noted, “The people who are on the town board or serving in Congress are citizens. . . . It seems to me an imposition upon them to stifle the manner in which they invoke their deity.” The purpose of the Establishment Clause is not to sanitize public life of all vestiges of religion. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right—a right that is essential to the health and well-being of a democratic society. The Establishment Clause of the Constitution was designed by the Founding Fathers to prohibit the government from coercing citizens to adhere, or not adhere, to a certain belief; it is not a license to remove all religious references from the public square.”
A decision is expected early next year. Members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus will continue to defend legislative prayer and protect religious freedom in America.
Congressional Prayer Caucus member, Representative Doug Collins, sponsored a resolution in the House of Representatives on Saturday, October 5 to protect the First Amendment freedoms of our military servicemembers.
On Saturday, the House passed H.Con.Res. 58, a resolution expressing the sense of Congress of the need for continued availability of religious services to servicemembers and their families during the shutdown. The bill passed the House overwhelmingly by a vote of 400-1, however the Senate has not yet taken up this essential measure. The debate was led by Congressional Prayer Caucus member, Representative Joe Wilson, who chairs the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel.
Last week, it became apparent that these contract chaplains had been furloughed, and as furloughed employees they are not permitted to minister on base. Military bases that have no active duty priests and have been unable to secure a priest that is not a contract chaplain have indefinitely suspended Catholic services. However, a lapse in appropriations does not restrict the First Amendment rights of American citizens. Chaplains exist to facilitate the free exercise rights of our servicemembers, a role which is particularly crucial for servicemembers who do not have access to civilian priests or pastors. Contract chaplains must be permitted to continue their duties to ensure that members of the military may continue to exercise their First Amendment rights.
Representative Collins is a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force Reserves. You can see the video of his speech during debate on the bill here. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right, and members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus will continue to defend the free exercise rights of our men and women in uniform.
A New York federal district court has dismissed a challenge to the inclusion of our national motto, “In God We Trust,” on United States currency. Forty-one Members of the House of Representatives signed an amicus curiae brief in May supporting the motto.
In dismissing the case, the court stated: “The Supreme Court has repeatedly assumed the motto’s secular purpose and effect, and all circuit courts that have considered this issue—namely the Ninth, Fifth, Tenth, and D.C. Circuit— have found no constitutional violation in the motto’s inclusion on currency. . . . To [disregard those decisions] would be to disregard the dicta from the Supreme Court . . . . Taken together, they support only one conclusion: the inclusion of the motto on U.S. currency . . . does not violate the Establishment Clause.”
The brief the Prayer Caucus members signed articulated 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. “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.”
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.
Yesterday, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts heard oral argument on a challenge to the phrase ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance in the case of Doe v. Acton-Boxborough. Representative Mike McIntyre, co-chair of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, and Representative Steven Palazzo led 38 Members of Congress in an amicus brief defending the phrase in the Pledge.
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. Massachusetts law requires that the Pledge be recited in public schools every day. However, no child is required to recite the Pledge. A student may abstain from the recitation for any reason and without providing a reason.
First written in 1892, the Pledge has been a part of American history for over a century. In 1942, Congress officially adopted the Pledge and in 1954, Congress amended the Pledge 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.
There have been at least three failed attempts to challenge ‘under God’ in the Pledge. Unable to sustain a claim under the federal constitution, three anonymous atheist parents of Massachusetts schoolchildren are challenging the claim under the Equal Rights Amendment of the Massachusetts constitution.
The lower court upheld the pledge as constitutional, stating that the Pledge is “a voluntary patriotic exercise” that “teach[es] American history and civics.”
Members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus have been ardent supporters of the Pledge of Allegiance. In 2011, 108 Members sent a letter to the CEO of NBC objecting to the removal of ‘under God’ from the broadcast of the Pledge during the U.S. Open, stating, “We live in a society where there are increasing efforts to remove all mention of religion from public life, and we remain dedicated to defending against such attempts.” NBC responded with an apology for censoring the phrase. In 2010, they submitted an amicus brief supporting the New Hampshire School Patriot Act. In 2009, Members passed a resolution directing the Pledge and the national motto, ‘In God We Trust,’ to be engraved in the Capitol Visitor Center.
Members of the Caucus remain committed to protecting the rich spiritual heritage of American history.
Eighty-five Members of the House of Representatives signed an amicus curiae brief with the Supreme Court in the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway, supporting the constitutional practice of legislatures opening their sessions with prayer. The brief points out that, though “Congress opens its daily sessions with legislative prayer, a practice that is fully consistent with the Establishment Clause,” this “longstanding prayer practice would fail under the tests promulgated by the Second Circuit in this case and the Fourth Circuit in previous cases.”
The Town of Greece has traditionally opened its public meetings with prayer. Anyone who wished to volunteer to pray was welcome, regardless of their religious affiliation. In 2008 however, Americans United for Separation of church and state filed suit on behalf of two citizens who claimed the prayers were unconstitutional.
The Second Circuit overruled the district court’s determination upholding the prayers, holding that despite a highly inclusive prayer policy, public prayer before town meetings in the town of Greece, New York was unconstitutional. The court based its decision on perception rather than policy, ignoring the fact that the town’s prayer policy allows any volunteer to provide a prayer before meetings, including individuals of no faith.
There is currently a three-way circuit split as to the proper standard for evaluating legislative prayer under the Establishment Clause. The Eleventh Circuit has applied the standard set forth by the Court in Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783 (1983), prohibiting judicial scrutiny of legislative prayers absent evidence of advancing or disparaging a particular religion. However, the Fourth Circuit’s decision hinged on the effect of the prayer, despite any policy in place, and the Second Circuit’s decision analyzed legislative prayer under the “reasonable observer” analysis of the endorsement test, County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union, 492 U.S. 573 (1989).
Forty-nine former and current Members of the House of Representatives signed an amicus curiae brief in January, asking the Court to take the case and reverse the ruling of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Both briefs were authored by Ken Klukowski, Director of the Family Research Council’s Center for Religious Liberty.
In addition to the brief filed by Members of the House, 25 amicus briefs were filed in support of legislative prayer, including briefs by 34 Senators and 23 State Attorneys General. Members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus will continue to defend legislative prayer and protect religious freedom in America.
The following piece by Rep. J. Randy Forbes, Founder and Co-Chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, was featured in the Baptist Press this week.
Religious freedom – a secondary right?
By Rep. J. Randy Forbes
The First Amendment is a promise that we are free to live holistically, according to the dictates of our conscience. Last month, however, the First Amendment was subjected to assaults seeking to force the fully free exercise of faith into the most private of places: our homes and houses of worship.
The intent is simple and fatal: redefine the meaning of religious freedom, making it a secondary right when exercised in the public square or marketplace.
If religious freedom becomes a secondary right, how will it affect you and your family? What challenges would you face if pressured to choose between your religious convictions and your job, business or livelihood?
Imagine you run a bakery. You love your customers, have never denied services to anyone and have employed openly gay individuals.
One day, a regular customer and her partner order a cake for their wedding ceremony. You are very fond of this customer but believe that marriage was created by God as the union of one man and one woman. Affirming the marriage by baking a cake would violate your belief. You thank your customer for her business and politely explain that you cannot provide a cake. The next week, you receive a letter saying you have been sued under your state's anti-discrimination laws; you face litigation and fines if you continue to refuse to bake the cake. A lawsuit could cripple the business you have spent years to build. What do you do?
What if your daughter's lifelong dream is to be a counselor? She calls crying and says she has been expelled from her program. You are confused. She is an honor student at the top of her class. She received her assignment for a required course, and the client was seeking counseling about homosexual behavior. Her religious convictions prevented her from affirming a homosexual relationship, so to best serve the client, she asked her supervisor to assign the client to another counselor. Her supervisor said she must submit to a remediation program to "see the error of her ways" and change her beliefs or withdraw from the program. What do you say to your daughter?
Maybe your family owns a successful business. You started with one store but now have hundreds of stores across several states. A family of deep faith, your religious beliefs are inseparable from the way you live your lives -- including your business decisions. You close your stores on Sundays to honor a day of rest and give your employees time with their families. Though similar stores often pay minimum wage, your full-time employees receive a starting salary almost double the minimum. Full-time employees also are eligible for excellent health insurance plans.
Under the new health care law you will be forced to pay significant fines if your insurance coverage does not include contraceptive and abortive services. Such services, which violate your religious belief that all life is precious, have never been covered under your company insurance plan. You request an exemption but are told your religious beliefs are irrelevant because you are making a profit. You will be fined less money if you offer no insurance, but ceasing coverage would harm your employees. What do you do?
These scenarios are based on real cases happening across the country -- a country where people originally came to escape religious persecution. They demonstrate a trend toward a dangerous redefinition of “freedom of religion” to mean simply “freedom of worship.”
The forced compartmentalization of faith fundamentally conflicts with the protection of religious freedom. Our First Amendment freedoms are deemed subordinate, when in fact our Founding Fathers revered religious freedom by giving it the highest form of protection under law. Thomas Jefferson emphasized the value of freedom of conscience when he stated that "no provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority."
Freedom of religion is more than freedom of worship. Freedom of religion is the freedom to live every aspect of our lives according to our faith. When individuals are faced with choosing between exercising their faith or defending a lawsuit or paying a fine, they are being deprived of a guaranteed constitutional right.
Last week, the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit overruled a district court’s denial of a preliminary injunction in the case of Hobby Lobby vs. Sebelius. Hobby Lobby, a private retail chain, filed a lawsuit in September challenging the mandate as a violation of their right to religious freedom. The owners of the company explained that if they refuse to comply with the mandate and instead operate in accordance with their faith, they could face fines of up to $1.3 million per day.
The court held that the Hobby Lobby is entitled to bring a claim under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and that the store had established a likelihood of success on that claim, sending the case back to the district court for reconsideration. The next day, the district court issued a temporary restraining order against the mandate’s application to the major store.
The company’s CEO David Green, said, “My family has lived the American dream. We want to continue growing our company and providing great jobs for thousands of employees, but the government is going to make that much more difficult. The government is forcing us to choose between following our faith and following the law. I say that’s a choice no American—and no American business—should have to make.”
In the midst of the legal victory for Hobby Lobby, however, the Department of Health and Human Services issued its final rule governing required contraceptive coverage in employer health care plans. The exemption continues to cover only churches and some religious non-profits, providing no relief for businesses like Hobby Lobby.
Congressman Randy Forbes, Founder and Co-Chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, issued the following statement in response to the final rule:
“Today, the Department of Health and Human Services issued its final rule mandating employer coverage of contraceptive care, stating that the regulations advance the interest of universal coverage ‘in a narrowly tailored fashion that protects certain nonprofit religious organizations with religious objections to providing contraceptive coverage from having to contract, arrange, pay, or refer for such coverage.’
The right to religious freedom guaranteed under the First Amendment of the Constitution is not limited to certain people or organizations—it protects everyone. By denying an exemption to all employers except ‘certain nonprofit religious organizations,’ the HHS has issued a rule that is blatantly unconstitutional.”
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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