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Looking at God's World

FDR’s prayer: ‘Let our hearts be stout’

Franklin Roosevelt

The president of the United States: “Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.”

Thus spoke Franklin Roosevelt to the nation on June 6, 1944, as Allied forces were in the midst of the D-Day invasion. He prayed to God on the airwaves.

This great prayer was broadcast and recorded for all to hear, even today. And across these years, some might find it inappropriate for a president to pray in such manner — in fact, to pray a prayer that could not be prayed at some public school graduation ceremonies.

Roosevelt began and ended his prayer with “Almighty God,” a rather generic appellation that would have been inclusive of all three Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He also did not utter the name of Jesus; once again a bow to inclusion.

Of course, today some courts have indicated similar use of “God” language in a prayer is inappropriate for public school functions. This just seems patently wrong-headed and inconsistent with the best of our history. We do not need or want a government that is pushing Christianity or any other faith on people, but to go the extreme secular path that some courts have gone is to prevent free exercise.

I am OK if some atheist valedictorian wants to say he doesn’t believe in God, just as I am OK with a Christian valedictorian saying he believes Jesus is the Son of God. God talk, including anti-God talk, simply must be allowed in this country if we are going to have freedom of religion.

We can, however, draw the line when people begin to use God language to incite behaviors that would be destructive of the principles on which this nation are founded. In other words, if someone says God told him or her that America is evil and people should go kill their neighbors, that has no place in civil society whether the person invokes God’s name or not.

I obviously am no attorney nor an expert on church and state, but the ideas expressed above seem self-evident and consistent with history of this nation, as I understand it.

Roosevelt’s prayer was no violation of separation of church and state as expressed in the First Amendment — then or now. It is not an “establishment” of religion for a president to pray in public and to invoke the guidance and protection of God. It also is not a violation of others’ “free exercise” for the president to do this. Likewise, such actions by other individuals in public forums are not a violation.

On the opposite side of this equation, we don’t need a government — or school — pushing one faith and denegrating others. If we do, someday and in some places something other than Christianity will be pushed and Christians will be persecuted. I surely do not that to happen to me, and I surely do not want that to happen to others.

Roosevelt’s prayer points to the reality of a powerful nation that is still not the ultimate power. In his prayer, Roosevelt asked God much for Allied soldiers and the nation.

“Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

“They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

“They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest — until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

“For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

“Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

“And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them — help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

“Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

“Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

“And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

“And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keeness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment — let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

“With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace — a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

“Thy will be done, Almighty God.

“Amen.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt – June 6, 1944

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This entry was posted on June 7, 2011 by in Religious Liberty and tagged , , , , .
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