Senate committee takes up WWII Memorial Prayer Act
Recently, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee regrettably took up S. 3078, the ill-advised “World War II Memorial Prayer Act” that passed the House earlier this year. The legislation would open up the current memorial, which represents all 16 million Americans who served during WWII, and alter it to represent one particular view of God and cause some veterans to feel excluded. In a June hearing, the Senate National Parks Subcommittee discussed the bill and Americans United’s opposition to the legislation. We submitted a letter to members of the Subcommittee stating “Congress would better serve the American people by focusing on the real issues of the day and rejecting efforts to meddle in the aesthetics of a memorial that has been standing on the National Mall for nearly a decade.”
Unfortunately, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) disagrees. During the hearing, he stated that “the legislation is adding some historical context to a beautiful memorial, adding another commemoration, not taking anything away from the memorial that’s already in place.” Citing the fact that the House vote was bipartisan, Sen. Portman also attempted to refute the idea that adding a sectarian prayer to an existing monument intended to honor all World War II veterans, not just Christians, is political posturing. The bill itself, however, is being used by many to make those opposed look anti-religion.
In a written statement submitted to the Subcommittee, AU clarified a number of more technical reasons the monument should remain unaltered. First, the designers of the memorial called for fewer inscriptions, not more. The design process involved years of debate and public deliberations, two American Battle Monuments Commissions, and input from a wide range of experts, who all agreed to reduce the number of inscriptions and to emphasize the quotations we see on the Memorial today. Second, whether or not additions are approved through existing processes, reopening the original design violates, at a minimum, the spirit of the Commemorative Works Act. The Act exists to respectfully gather public and expert input and agree upon a monument design that best honors our military veterans, a goal which it successfully accomplished. Finally, altering an existing monument in this way is truly unprecedented. Though proponents of S. 3078 claim the addition of a prayer is akin to the inscription added to the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a Dream Speech,” the MLK plaque differs entirely. That inscription commemorates the site of a historical event, and its addition did nothing to change the content or message of the Lincoln Memorial.
“The Memorial, as designed,” wrote Legislative Director Maggie Garrett, “is purposely short on words yet certainly evokes a powerful message of unity.” The Senate would best preserve and honor this unity by remembering that military troops, like all Americans, come from diverse beliefs and backgrounds. All veterans should be honored for their service, and the World War II Memorial, in its current form, does a spectacular job.