by Kelly Shackelford, Esq.
President, CEO & Chief Counsel
This Memorial Day, as we remember our fallen military heroes, isn’t it appropriate that we identify and recommit ourselves to the things for which they offered the ultimate sacrifice?
I’m not sure any U.S. President described it more dramatically than Franklin D. Roosevelt on D-Day, as more than 100,000 Americans crossed the English Channel to invade Nazi-occupied France. Roosevelt’s expression of what they were defending was especially significant considering he spoke publicly, with a national radio audience of millions joining him, to God Himself in a prayer that lasted a full six-and-a-half minutes.
Consider that. At a time when the souls of many soldiers overseas would be departing this life to meet God, the man the nation elected to lead the government was now leading the country into the presence of that God.
What did Roosevelt say those brave souls were dying to defend? He did not mince words when he spoke to the Almighty:
“Almighty God: Our sons, the pride of our nation, this day have
set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our
Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.”
To Roosevelt, there was an unbreakable connection between free government—“our Republic”—our way of life—“our civilization”—and our faith in God—“our religion.” All were intertwined. All were at risk together. Separation of religion and state would have been a laughable, repugnant, and dangerous notion at such a clarifying hour of national crisis.
The first president, George Washington, would have understood. As commander of the Continental Army, Washington asserted, “The blessing and protection of Heaven are at all times necessary but especially so in times of public distress and danger.”
Keep in mind, Roosevelt’s prayer was no vague deistic platitude. He called upon God to act. He requested, “Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith. They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong.”
Nor was the prayer mere ceremony and political window dressing. This was a long prayer. It took up an entire presidential address, given on the most important day of Roosevelt’s presidency, concerning one of the most important events in American and world history. What’s more, the President urged God to remind the people to keep praying throughout the grind of the war.
The prayer also made bold statements about the afterlife—especially poignant for us to recall on a day like Memorial Day. The President acknowledged, “Some will never return.” He asked, “Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.”
Finally, this was no prayer diluted with politically-correct moral relativism. For a President and his people going before God that fateful night, good and evil, right and wrong, light and dark were very real: “With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy, “ he said. “Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogance.”
For years, anti-faith special interests and the U.S. government saw fit to exclude President Roosevelt’s prayer from the otherwise magnificent World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. The ACLU and others vigorously opposed etching his words on the stone of the expansive memorial. Finally, last year the inclusion of the prayer became law, though it must be added to the memorial with private funds.
If they had their way, the secularists would tear down existing memorials that are in the form of a cross honoring our war dead located on public property. For instance, First Liberty Institute is standing in the way of the American Humanist Association, which wants a court to remove the 40-foot Maryland WWI “Mothers Memorial,” and we have stood against the ACLU’s attempts to tear down the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial and the Mojave Veterans Memorial in California.
Secularists would also neuter the spiritual authority of military chaplains, as politically correct commanders attempted to do with our clients such as chaplains Joseph Lawhorn (U.S. Army) and Wes Modder (U.S. Navy). If President Franklin Roosevelt could utter a doctrine-laden prayer in an official address to the nation, can’t a military chaplain be free to express his or her religious viewpoint?
This Memorial Day, let’s apply President Roosevelt’s words. Let’s continue to fight “a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization,” because those three institutions remain intertwined. And indeed, they remain under attack. These are the things our fallen service members gave their lives to defend on the battlefield. We owe it to them to continue that defense in every area of the free society they entrusted to our care.
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About First Liberty Institute
First Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.FirstLiberty.org.