Military Academy Prayer Bill Introduced

Right-wing House members have introduced a bill supporting dinnertime prayer at U.S. military academies.

Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), a frequent advocate of Religious Right causes, is leading the effort to ensure that a federal appeals court ruling barring daily supper prayers at the Virginia Military Institute does not extend to federal military schools. A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in April in Mellen v. Bunting that "VMI's supper prayer exacts an unconstitutional toll on the consciences of religious objectors."

An early September press release from Jones' office states that the "Military Academy Protection Act," H.R. 2999, is "an effort to protect the religious rights of our men and women within our military academies."

Seeking to impugn the patriotism of those who challenged VMI's mandated supper prayer, Jones declared that "liberal organizations" are attempting to "take away the very freedoms that these students are willing to go to war to protect."

Americans United filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the 4th Circuit, arguing that dinnertime prayer sponsored by the military school ran afoul of church-state separation.

The 4th Circuit's ruling did not bar individual cadets from praying before, during or after their suppers, but declared that the First Amendment prohibits VMI from sponsoring such religious activity.

At time of publication, the Jones bill, which has about 30 co-sponsors, was pending in the House Committee on Armed Services.