Former West Point Cadet Challenges Cadet Prayer

In 2010 West Point Cadet Alan Spadone was disenrolled for failing to participate in a remediation program after admitting to violating the Honor Code.  He was directed to begin serving as an enlisted soldier, as he had already begun his third year at West Point when he committed his violation in the fall of 2009.

He filed civil complaints on multiple counts, including everything from the remediation program was unreasonable to the government was trying to “enrich itself” by making him serve as a soldier.  Those claims were all dismissed in a recent ruling:

Spadone has not established that his suspension and disenrollment from West Point violated the APA or his right to due process, and Spadone failed to demonstrate a waiver of sovereign immunity for his claim of unjust enrichment.

Interestingly, however, Spadone is permitted to continue his claim that the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution was violated when the Commandant of Cadets, sensing in Spadone a lack of remorse and contrition, ordered him to “read aloud” the Cadet Prayer:

O God, our Father, Thou Searcher of human hearts, help us to draw near to Thee in sincerity and truth. May our religion be filled with gladness and may our worship of Thee be natural.

Strengthen and increase our admiration for honest dealing and clean thinking, and suffer not our hatred of hypocrisy and pretence ever to diminish. Encourage us in our endeavor to live above the common level of life.

Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole can be won. Endow us with courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy.

Guard us against flippancy and irreverence in the sacred things of life. Grant us new ties of friendship and new opportunities of service. Kindle our hearts in fellowship with those of a cheerful countenance, and soften our hearts with sympathy for those who sorrow and suffer.

Help us to maintain the honor of the Corps untarnished and unsullied and to show forth in our lives the ideals of West Point in doing our duty to Thee and to our Country. All of which we ask in the name of the Great Friend and Master of all.


Since the court filing says “read aloud,” it’s unclear if this was a rote recitation, which would imply the Cadet Prayer was still on the list of mandatory things to memorize (that along with Schofield’s quote and many others), or if it was off the engraved prayer on the cadet grounds.

It seems the Army had argued Spadone did not have standing to raise the Establishment Clause complaint and that it was irrelevant to the administrative proceeding, since Spadone was “uninjured” by the prayer and re-admitting him to West Point would not change the prayer issue. 

The court said being ordered to recite a prayer gave him standing, thus, that complaint may proceed.  Notably, the court also made a point of saying it was unconstitutional to force cadets to attend religious services, as had been tradition for many years until it was stopped in the 1970s (Anderson v. Laird, D.C. Cir. 1972).

The Cadet Prayer was written by Chaplain (Col) Clayton Wheat many decades ago.  A 1942 Association of Graduates magazine (9MB PDF) interviewed the Colonel as to why he wrote the prayer.

While reciting a prayer does not establish a religion, it is likely not an appropriate thing to order a cadet to do, particularly when the words of the prayer are specific to a religion.  That’s not to say everything that has the word “God” in it needs to be scrubbed from the military lexicon.  After all, that’s not the only thing every cadet memorizes (and recites on command) that talks about God:

Code of Conduct, Article 6:
I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.

Via the Religion Clause.