Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Last Night, Only 12 Democrats Stood Up for Separation of Church and State

Yesterday, the House passed the World War II Memorial Prayer Act by a large margin of 370 to 12.
This bill requires the Secretary of the Interior to add an inscription of FDR's D-Day prayer to the WWII Memorial.

Last year, the ACLU--along with the American Jewish Committee (AJC), Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Hindu American Foundation, and the Interfaith Alliance--wrote to Senator Rob Portman (the bill's sponsor in the Senate) and Senator Mark Udall of Subcommittee on National Parks in the Committee on Energy & Natural Resources to express their concerns regarding the First Amendment implications of the bill:
We, the undersigned organizations, write to express our concerns about S. 1044, the “World War II Memorial Prayer Act of 2013.” This bill would require the Secretary of the Interior to add an inscription of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s D-Day prayer to the WWII Memorial.
Religious freedom is a fundamental and defining feature of our national character. Given our robust, longstanding commitment to the freedom of religion and belief, it is no surprise that the United States is among the most religious, and religiously diverse, in the world. Our religious diversity is one of our nation’s greatest strengths.
This bill, however, shows a lack of respect for that great diversity. It endorses the false notion that all veterans will be honored by a war memorial that includes a prayer proponents characterize as reflecting our country’s “Judeo-Christian heritage and values.” In fact, Department of Defense reports show that nearly one-third of all current members of the U.S. Armed Forces identify as non-Christian. Likewise, many of our veterans and citizens come from a variety of religious backgrounds, or have no religious belief; thus, it is inappropriate to honor the “power of prayer” in a national memorial.
Memorials are designed to bring our country together in a unified reflection of our past. Indeed, the WWII Memorial’s stated purpose is national unity. Instead of uniting us as we remember the sacrifices of those who served, the inclusion of this prayer on the memorial would be divisive: IT would send a strong message to those who do not share the same religious beliefs expressed in this prayer that they are excluded and “not full members of the…community.”
The memorial, as it currently stands, appropriately honors those who served and encompasses the entirety of that war. The World war II Memorial Commission and the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) carefully chose the thirteen inscriptions already included on the memorial. The inscriptions contain inspiring quotes spanning from the beginning of U.S. involvement in the war following the attacks on Pearl Harbor to the war’s end, and already include a quote about D-Day and two quotes from President Roosevelt. These commissions thoroughly deliberated which inscriptions to include, selecting quotations that onor those who served and commemorate the events of World War II. As the National Park Service explained at a hearing on this legislation in the 112th Congress, “This design we see today was painstakingly arrived upon after years of public deliberation and spirited public debate.” The ABMC and National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission, which was designated by Congress to consult on the design of the Memorial, have stated that “no additional elements should be inserted into this carefully designed Memorial.”
The First Amendment affords special protections to freedom of religion. Because of these protections, each of us is free to believe, or not believe, according to the dictates of our conscience. The effect of this bill, however, is to co-opt religion for political purposes, which harms the beliefs of everyone.
Thank you for allowing us to share our concerns with S. 1044.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
American Jewish Committee (AJC)
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Hindu American Foundation
Interfaith Alliance
Unfortunately, as I noted earlier, only 12 members of Congress--all Democrats--voted against the bill.
They were the following: 
Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01)
Judy Chu (CA-27)
Katherine Clark (MA-05)
Tammy Duckworth (IL-08)
Keith Ellison (MN-05)
Mike Honda (CA-17)
Hank Johnson (GA-04)
Jerry Nadler (NY-10)
Beto O’Rourke (TX-16)
Mark Pocan (WI-02)
Bobby Scott (VA-03)
Niki Tsongas (MA-03)

22 Democrats were not in attendance for the vote. I would think that Barbara Lee (CA-13) would have voted no had she been present.

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