US House Passes Bills on Religion at War Memorials

The US House of Representatives passed two separate bills (previously noted) related to religion at US military war memorials — a point of controversy for about the past two decades in southern California, at least. Though they’ve been inaccurately described as “promoting” religion, the first does little more than officially authorize longstanding tradition, and the second adds a Presidential statement to a war memorial.

One writes into law the propriety of displaying religious markers at war memorials while the other orders that the Interior Department add to the World War II Memorial in Washington a plaque with Franklin Roosevelt’s prayer to the nation on D-Day.

The law allowing religious displays at war memorials was submitted by Rep Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who has come out in defense of both Mount Soledad and the Camp Pendleton war memorial. The former was declared unconstitutional by the 9th Circuit last year; the latter would not likely be affected, since it is not an official federal memorial.

The second law adds a prayer by President Franklin Roosevelt to the World War II memorial on the mall.  The lengthy prayer can be read here.  Though it was opposed by the Obama administration’s Bureau of Land Management, it passed the house on a 386-26 vote.

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State reportedly “urged the Senate to ignore the bills.”  The AU previously said they were evidence of Congress lack of priorities.  An LA Times editorial claimed the laws were unconstitutional because they would promote a single religion, presumably because the LA Times feels only Christians want to put up religious memorials.  Congressional supporters said the laws were necessary to fend off attacks against the memorials in recent years:

Hunter said his legislation was needed in the face of legal challenges against the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial “and the likelihood of more to come.”

“Our Constitution protects the freedom of religion, not freedom from it,” Rep. Brian P. Bilbray (R-Carlsbad), a bill co-sponsor, told his colleagues. “This issue is one that has gone so far that we’re actually talking about tearing crosses down over war memorials.”

Also at the Religion Clause.