Prayer at West Point under fire

Alliance Defending Freedom letter defends invocations at U.S. Military Academy events
Thursday, January 10, 2013

Attorney sound bite:  David Hacker

WEST POINT, N.Y. — Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter Wednesday on behalf of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty to the United States Military Academy at West Point after a secularist group protested invocations at various West Point events.

“The First Amendment allows public officials to acknowledge our nation’s religious heritage,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel David Hacker. “Since the Revolution, the U.S. Army has offered soldiers the opportunity to hear invocations. West Point has continued this tradition since its founding in 1802. Anti-religious groups with misguided ideas about the First Amendment should not be allowed to destroy a time-honored and perfectly constitutional American custom.”

James P. Trainor, one of nearly 2,200 allied attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom and a 1981 graduate of West Point, also signed the letter.

Last month, Americans United for Separation of Church and State wrote to the military academy and claimed that invocations at West Point events, including Plebe Parent Weekend, Ring Weekend, Thanksgiving Dinner, the Martin Luther King Award Dinner, and graduation, were unconstitutional and coerce cadets to participate in and endorse religion.

As the Alliance Defending Freedom letter explains, however, “The historical practice of offering prayer, especially at military and university functions at West Point, does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.” Rather, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit has stated, invocations such as the ones offered by West Point chaplains and cadets, “solemnize public occasions, express confidence in the future, and encourage the recognition of what is worthy of appreciation in society.”

The letter also explains that, contrary to AUSCS’s accusations, “West Point does not require cadets to participate in the invocations or even listen to them” and “two federal courts of appeals rejected the notion that prayers at significant public university events coerce attendees to participate in religion.”

“Our Founding Fathers opened their meetings with prayer and ensured this freedom would be protected in the Constitution,” added Hacker. “It is unfortunate that groups like Americans United disrespect the history behind our brave military men and women, who train to preserve this freedom for future generations.”

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building legal ministry that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
 
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