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.
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.
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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