In Office Since January 2010

The American Tradition of Prayer in the Public Square

Dave was invited to speak at the Memorial Day Celebration conducted by the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars in Washougal on Memorial Day 2013. The address that follows was well received by those in attendance. To see the interview with Dave regarding prayer in public places, click the link below. Interview

We began our activities this morning by invoking the blessing of the Almighty on our endeavors. The freedom to do so was won for us by our ancestors, established in our Constitution, and preserved by those who served in the forces that guard our country. Some of these guardians of our freedoms are memorialized by the headstones you see about you, and by grieving families for whom the pain of losing a loved one never ceases. We gather here today, a free people come to recognize those ultimate sacrifices of our warriors, and all the sacrifices, large and small, by those who serve and their families. Prayer will be an integral part of our ceremonies today. This is nothing new! But it is controversial!

Our country was founded by people fleeing oppression because of their faith. As a nation, we have a long history of opening and closing public meetings with prayer to invoke the blessings and guidance of the Almighty for our endeavors.

An early recorded instance of public prayer by those who founded one of the first colonies on American soil was the Mayflower Compact, the signatories on which included one of my direct ancestors. The Compact began with the words “In the name of God, Amen.” It was signed the day before the Mayflower made port in 1620, and made frequent reference to the Almighty.

The US House of Representatives, IAW Article I, Section 2 of the US Constitution, elected its first Chaplain at its initial meeting on 1 May 1789, and has begun each session since with an opening prayer. The Senate has done likewise since 25 April 1789. There are Americans who would have it otherwise.

So long as Congress, or any other legislative authority in this country, does not attempt to establish a state religion however, there is no Constitutional prohibition on prayer at public meetings. In fact, it is protected by the First Amendment. Those who would prohibit religion in the public square often incorrectly interpret Thomas Jefferson. The “Wall of Separation between Church and State” that Thomas Jefferson mentioned in his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists of Connecticut was actually intended to illustrate the protection of their religious rights from actions by the state. Jefferson would be appalled that his words are being used to justify prohibition of religious expression at public meetings. The Constitution protects freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. Those who wish to be free from religion may be so, as long as they do not infringe on the constitutionally protected right to freedom of religion by others.

Jefferson recognized that religion is one of the major underpinnings of a free people. It encourages citizens to exercise personal responsibility to govern their own behavior and acknowledge the rights of their fellow citizens. Religion strengthens families, the basic building block of any society, reduces the need for government enforcement and makes possible the smaller government that is the prerequisite for a free people.

US and Washington State law both protect the right to prayer at public meetings. But courts have set guidelines that make such exercise of religious freedom somewhat difficult, and there is always the threat of lawsuits from those who would deny the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens.

As a soldier, I discovered in combat that there are few atheists in foxholes. Prayer is important to soldiers. They know that they may meet their creator at any moment, and yearn to be in His good graces. If you have ever witnessed the comfort a dying soldier experiences from religious observance, you can understand the importance of our First Amendment Right to Freedom of Religion. I suspect that some of you have had that experience. It sets us apart from our fellow citizens on whose behalf we endure such hardships. It provides an appreciation for the value of religion in public life.

The appropriateness of prayer in public places is a discussion we should have. It should not be shut down by those who employ rhetoric and attack the messenger to preclude the discussion. And may the Almighty inspire us and guide us to a proper conclusion of this discussion.

A final thought on the subject of prayer in public places. If you are willing to have your First Amendment Right to Freedom of Religion curtailed, what other rights would you be willing to sacrifice? Other portions of the Bill of Rights are under attack too, among them the Second Amendment right to bear arms, the Fourth Amendment Right against unreasonable searches and seizures, and the Tenth Amendment Right reserving to the individual states all powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution or prohibited to the states by it. Where will you draw the line?

Thanks for taking the time this morning to hear the ruminations of an old soldier on the importance of prayer in our public lives. It is good to be in the company of so many who have served, and those who appreciate those who do.

May God bless you and keep you, and as my fellow pilots say, may He grant you fair skies and a following wind on your journey through this life.