Nearly 400 years ago, the Plymouth Pilgrims, driven by faith and devotion, courageously voyaged across the Atlantic in search of religious freedom. The celebration of that first harvest in the New World surely included a lot of deep soul searching, but how joyful these brave men, women, and children must have been in giving thanks to the Almighty and in recognition that their living through and surviving so many struggles was an unquestioned miracle.
From the beginning, our Nation has rightly embraced a deeply held faith in God. Many, including early English settlers, came to America to escape governments that established religions or discriminated against certain religious practices, and our Founding Fathers reflected on that when they crafted our national Constitution. We appeal to Him for strength and guidance in the challenges that confront us, and we ask for His protection in times of crisis. The word of God has shaped not only our morals, but also our culture and our laws.
However, that has not stopped the Constitutional separation of church and state from being misinterpreted over time, and used to prevent even voluntary prayer, something that I believe is contrary to the true intent of the Framers.
Currently, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case, Town of Greece v. Galloway, where the Court will decide whether limits should exist on the delivery of prayers before the opening of a legislative body.
As a Christian and a public servant, I am convinced that the Constitution was intended to ensure that the government not dictate religious practices or prevent individuals from worshipping as they choose -- like legislative bodies opening their sessions with voluntary prayer.
In Congress, for instance, Members begin each legislative day with a prayer in order to seek guidance for the day's deliberations in their respective chambers in the U.S. Capitol. In fact, since 1954, the Congress has set aside space in the U.S. Capitol for a Congressional Prayer Room, where Members can seek Divine strength and guidance, both in public affairs and in their own personal lives, according to the House Chaplain.
In sponsoring an effort in the House to support the voluntary practice of prayer at the beginning of legislative and public meetings, including school board meetings, I have argued that the First Amendment is not meant to limit religious expression. The Constitution I read protects our ability to worship as we please. That is a freedom for which our men and women fought and died to protect.
Since we have just celebrated Veteran's Day, I am reminded that when Congress first established November 11 as Armistice Day, which later evolved into Veterans Day, Congress declared "it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer ."
Whether it be on Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, or every day of the week, let us pray and act so that the government of the people, by the people and for the people will protect the rights of America's families.
A young President, himself a veteran and a man of faith, John F. Kennedy, who was taken from us fifty years ago, once challenged all Americans, "here on Earth, God's work must truly be our own. May each of us continue to rise to that call.
As people of faith, Americans have often turned to prayer -- for comfort, for inspiration, for strength -- at some of our Nation's most trying times. As Christians, we know what a powerful tool prayer can be to heal and focus our national energies in common cause, and so did our Founding Fathers.