The ACLU is once again targeting the constitutionality of prayer this time at the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland. The ACLU is threatening to file a federal lawsuit unless the Naval Academy ends a long-standing tradition of permitting a mealtime prayer at noon a voluntary prayer before meals. The ACLU says the practice is unconstitutional and a violation of the First Amendment.
The fact is the ACLU is wrong in its legal position, and weve sent the Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy a detailed letter outlining the legal reasons why this tradition believed to date back to the schools founding in 1845 is not only proper but constitutional as well.
You can read our letter here.
In our letter encouraging the Naval Academy to stand firm and continue its tradition of mealtime prayer, the ACLJ notes that the voluntary prayer is offered on a rotating basis by a diverse group of several chaplains.
In its demand to the Naval Academy, the ACLU relies almost entirely on a federal appeals court decision that declared supper prayers at the Virginia Military Institute unconstitutional. The fact is the VMI case is much different, and the appeals court decision in that case does not provide the proper framework for considering the Naval Academys lunchtime prayer. What is clear is that the Naval Academys practice is entitled to great deference from the courts.
The Supreme Court of the United States understands the different role that the military holds in society and has noted on several occasions that the military in important respects remains a specialized society separate from civilian society. The high court has also said that the different character of the military community and of the military mission requires a different application of The First Amendment.
Our history is replete with references to God and to religion. These are just a few of the examples we cited in our letter:
In addition, given the very real threat of harm posed by their commitment to the American war effort, the signers of the Declaration of Independence concluded with an appeal to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions and a statement of firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence. Use of the slogan In God We Trust dates back to the War of 1812. In September 1814, fearing for the fate of his country while watching the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, American Francis Scott Key composed the poem the Star Spangled Banner. The last verse of the poemwhich is now our national anthemstates: Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, and this be our motto: In God is our trust.
During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincolns Gettysburg Address of 1863 proclaimed that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom. The national motto, In God We Trust, first appeared on coins the following year. The Battle Hymn of the Republicpopularized during the Civil Waris replete with religious references.
The fact is the lunchtime prayer at the Naval Academy is voluntary and voluntary public acknowledgement of God is uniquely compatible with military service.
We also note that the lunchtime prayer is part of the very fabric of the Naval Academy:
A reasonable observer of the Naval Academys prayer tradition realizes that the practice has become engrained into the fabric of daily life at the Academy. The lunch prayer encourages religious tolerance, aids students in reflecting on their own beliefs, and allows midshipmen to celebrate the American tradition of expressing thanksgiving. As one parent of a midshipman recently explained, I think the mids understand they have to live in a world of diversity, and have to learn to tolerate other religious beliefs. A reasonable person who observes the prayer would think tradition, camaraderie, unity, and service, not sectarian strife or religious establishment.
In addition, Congress specifically approved of the voluntary prayer at the Naval Academy. Recognizing the importance of voluntary prayer at the Naval Academy and other federal service academies, Congress stated in 2006 that "[t]he superintendent of a service academy may have in effect such policy as the superintendent considers appropriate with respect to the offering of a voluntary, nondenominational prayer at an otherwise authorized activity of the academy, subject to the United States Constitution and such limitations as the Secretary of Defense may prescribe."
The Naval Academys longstanding tradition of having a chaplain offer a brief word of prayer before lunch does not violate the First Amendment. The Naval Academy has not endorsed a particular religious viewpoint. And, in our conclusion, we encouraged the Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy to stand firm and continue this longstanding tradition.
Not only do we urge the Academy to uphold this tradition, we let the Superintendent know that were grateful for the service of those at the Naval Academy. Were deeply appreciative of their service to our country and their commitment to defending the lives and freedoms of Americans at home and abroad.
We will keep you posted as developments unfold at the U.S. Naval Academy.