Skip to comments.GOP Bill Backs Naval Academy's Lunch Prayer
Posted on 10/13/2003 9:30:48 AM PDT by new cruelty
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- A group of conservative Republicans in Congress is pushing a bill that would safeguard the right of U.S. military academies to say grace before meals.
The bill comes after a civil-liberties group warned that lunchtime grace at the Naval Academy may be unconstitutional. It's also the first legislative response to federal court rulings striking down mealtime prayer at the Virginia Military Institute as a violation of church-state separation.
Annapolis is the only federal academy where a chaplain leads grace before a meal with mandatory attendance. West Point doesn't offer a mealtime prayer; the Air Force Academy pauses at lunch for a moment of silence.
"Right now my concern is Annapolis," said Rep. Walter Jones Jr., a North Carolina Republican and senior member of the House Armed Services Committee who introduced the bill last month. "I have spoken to many graduates of the academies, and they have told me how important their faith and religion is to them."
The Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has sent letters to the Naval Academy questioning the legality of its lunchtime grace. Midshipmen who miss any part of lunch can be disciplined.
David Rocah, the staff attorney for the Maryland ACLU, said the group objects to the academy's grace because students have no choice about whether to attend. Rocah denounced the Jones bill as "drivel."
"Congress can't authorize the military academies to violate the Constitution," Rocah said. "This is a meaningless exercise in political grandstanding by people cynically attempting to exploit religion for their own political purposes. It's despicable."
The bill targets only the three U.S. military academies and wouldn't affect state colleges such as VMI in Lexington, Va., or The Citadel in Charleston, S.C., which have scrapped mealtime prayers in response to appellate court rulings this year.
Jones said the bill isn't meant to force the military academies to offer prayer at school activities, just to ensure by law their right to do so.
Some legal scholars say they doubt the bill would afford any new protection against First Amendment lawsuits. But they said that judges inclined to back mealtime prayer could point to it as an argument for judicial deference to the will of Congress and the executive branch.
"You could see why a statute like this wouldn't hurt," said Ira Lupu, a First Amendment specialist at the George Washington University law school. "But I don't think it can alter in the slightest the constitutional questions."
The Jones bill has 23 co-sponsors, including Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican. It has been sent to the House Armed Services Committee, which has yet to set any hearings or votes.
Jones will try to muster support for the bill at a meeting Wednesday of the House Republican Conference.
Jones said the academies have told his staff they can't take an official stand on the bill, but he said he has received encouragement from alumni.
The Naval Academy has said it has no plans to change its lunchtime ritual, which officials say may date to the school's founding in 1845.
If ya don't like the prayer, go to school SOMEWHERE ELSE!
My husband is a graduate of USNA, class of '58 (Admirals Poindexter and Chuck Larson, along with Senator McCain.)
Husband is adamant that they prayers remain and I think the aforementioned are in favor of this legislation as well.
Tonk: Please ping military FReepers.
And then the fun begins in earnest.
USNA's Fortune Favors the Bold class.
Describes the ACLU perfectly. But he's right about one thing: nothing short of an explicit constitutional amendment - with built-in penalties for judges who ignore it - will deter these spawn of Satan.
A statute like this hurts because it's one more cynical ploy to abuse the legislative process for political grandstanding. The proponents get to pass a feel-good bill, wasting taxpayers money, while actually accomplishing little after it gets knocked down by the Supreme Court.
A law that is unconstitutional is a bad law until the Constitution is amended. The business of the Congress should be to pass good laws, not bad ones. Wasting time like this when there are actual issues that they can address that lie fallow is a waste of their time and a very poor quality process.