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Congressional Prayer Caucus

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. GOHMERT. Mr. Speaker, I thank my good friend from Virginia for having this time tonight. There's no better occasion than the National Prayer Breakfast.

My dear friend from Virginia leads each week when we're in session the first night of the week with bipartisan prayer. There is so much disagreement on this floor. I know my good friend from Texas, Al Green, and I have disagreement on issues, but he is my Christian brother and we prayed together tonight. It's a great honor to do that.

There's so much misinformation out there about the starting of this country, and there are always plenty of mistakes made. When you look back to the very beginning, after the rocky start with the Articles of Confederation, 4 years later they talked Washington into coming back and coming to Philadelphia and presiding over a convention. He was very reluctant to do that. He thought he had done his part. But after 4 or 5 weeks of nothing but rancor and a lot of yelling, very difficult times within Independence Hall, finally 80-year-old Benjamin Franklin stood up and was recognized by the president of the Constitutional Convention, George Washington.

Franklin had enjoyed life a great deal, but at that point he was overweight, had arthritis, gout. He was in a lot of trouble, but his mind was quite sharp. He was 2 to 3 years away from meeting his Maker. But he pointed out, we've been going for nearly 4 or 5 weeks, and we have more noes than ayes on virtually every vote. Then he says these words.

Now Madison entered notes to what he said, but Franklin wrote out his whole speech, and that is part of our archives. He said in his own words:

How has it happened, Sir, that we have not once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understanding?

In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered.

And he goes on to point out that all of them should be able to remember specific prayers that they had prayed that were answered. Then he said these words, his words, his handwriting we have, as he spoke to the convention:

I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that unless the Lord build the House, they labor in vain that build it.

He urged his colleagues to believe it as he did, and he made a motion that they begin each session with prayer, as they had during the Constitutional Convention. Mr. SHERMAN seconded it. There was a lot of debate. I heard someone call in to Sean Hannity's show a few months ago, and they were saying, Well, gee, prayer meant nothing in the early days. In essence it was his point that that motion was defeated.

If you go back and look at the history, during the Constitutional Convention, they had money and they hired a chaplain. They agreed on the chaplain, and the chaplain led the prayer. During the Constitutional Convention, as was pointed out after Franklin's motion, they didn't have any money to hire a chaplain. They had no money. So they ended up not passing it because they didn't have money to hire a chaplain; and if they didn't hire a chaplain, they didn't see how they could agree on who would do the prayer.

They ultimately went together to hear a sermon on the anniversary of our independence. They prayed together; they worshiped together; and they came back. Ultimately, the result was our Constitution. When the Congress began to meet, they did have money; they did hire a chaplain; and they did start each session with prayer.

It was interesting when, back a few years ago, we were called into session on a Sunday to vote on the President's health care bill. Well, it was the first time I'd been called into session on a Sunday, and I greatly appreciated my friend from Virginia's leadership. We had a discussion: if we're going to be forced to come to Congress, called into session on a Sunday--what many of us call the Lord's day--then it doesn't seem like there should be a problem reviving a tradition that spanned most of the 1800s, and that was to have church right down the hall here--in Statuary Hall as it's called now--but in what was the House of Representatives for most of the 1800s, until around 1858, when they moved into this Chamber, although it did not look like this. During those years, they had church service every Sunday. It was the largest Christian church service--nondenominational--in Washington, D.C.

Now, those who know the Constitution know there is no mention of the words ``separation of church and State,'' ``wall of separation.'' That was in a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptists. It had nothing to do with whether or not there should be discrimination against a Christian church as we often see now by the government. It seems that Christians are the only group that is politically expedient to be prejudiced against anymore--too often. The man who used the words ``separation of church and State,'' Thomas Jefferson, we had verified by the research that the Congressional Research Service did.

When I just glanced at the report they provided, I saw that Madison didn't do this, and I thought, gee, that's weird. I thought Jefferson and Madison as President both went to church in the House of Representatives down the hall, so I looked more intently at the report. It said that Thomas Jefferson did go to church, and, in fact, Jefferson would often bring the Marine Band to play the hymns for the church service down the hall. That's a little different definition of the ``separation of church and State'' that's often given now. Just down the hall, they had open prayer and they had open worship, and nothing about any of that offended their sense of the First Amendment.

It turns out what the report said was Jefferson would normally ride to church each Sunday that he was President up to Capitol Hill on horse, on horseback. It pointed out that Madison didn't do this. Madison normally came to church every Sunday here in the House of Representatives in a horse-drawn carriage--he didn't ride a horse; he rode in a carriage--but the man who is given the most credit for the most work of our Constitution, James Madison, was not at all offended, and he didn't think the Constitution was offended by having church down the hall.

So I'll always be grateful to my friend from Virginia (Mr. Forbes) for suggesting let's have church, and we came together. They set it up, and it just reminded us of what it must have been like except they wouldn't have had steel and plastic chairs, but we had a worship service. What was particularly great, I thought, was that the prayers, both from Democrats and Republicans, were historic prayers that had been prayed in this Capitol many, many years ago as part of our history. It was a historical service, but there it was in the same place that the voice of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison would have echoed in song and in verse and in prayer. Such a rich history we have.

I'm sure my friend from Virginia has heard people call and write nasty notes, saying, Keep your religion at home. This is when I have read historical prayers, historical proclamations by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and all in between--Adams, John Quincy Adams--by all of these historical heavyweights in our past. People write, Keep that stuff out of government, not realizing, because of their lack of proper education, that those were part of our history. They were part of what made this country the greatest country in the world. It was part of what inspired John Quincy Adams, who Abraham Lincoln credited as having such an impact on him for that brief year they overlapped in the House of Representatives, to ultimately come back and become President--to end that blot, that blight, on this country's history called ``slavery.''

Of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose statue is just down the hall in the Rotunda, the man was an ordained Christian minister. He spent his life, I've heard some say, in order to have all races created equal, and I would go one further as a young Christian white boy: he freed young Christian white boys to treat Christian brothers and sisters like Christian brothers and sisters. He did a great service for all of America.

So I thank my friend from Virginia for hosting this time to talk about the historical importance of prayer. I look forward to this Thursday's prayer breakfast. It's an honor to be the Republican co-chair on the House side, and I look forward to the breakfast on Thursday.

Mr. Speaker, I hope you and all within the sound of the voice of the Members of Congress will be there with us this Thursday morning.

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