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Playing Politics with the World War II Memorial

Ian S. Thompson,
Senior Legislative Advocate,
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May 20, 2014

Today, a subcommittee in the House of Representatives will hold a hearing on a bill to require that an inscription of a D-Day prayer given by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, reflecting a specific religious viewpoint, be added to the World War II Memorial. The bill plays politics with religion and detracts from the stated purpose of this important memorial: national unity.

Memorials like this are designed to bring our country together in a unified reflection of past sacrifices. A legislative proposal like the “World War II Memorial Prayer Act” endorses the false notion that all veterans are honored by a war memorial that includes a sectarian prayer that does not reflect the beliefs of many who fought in World War II.

Our nation is and always has been one of extraordinary religious diversity, and this is no less true for those who serve in our armed forces. A recent Defense Department report on religious diversity within the military found that nearly a third of all members of the armed forces identify as non-Christian. Instead of being something that unites us as we remember the courage and sacrifices of those who served during World War II, the inclusion of a sectarian prayer on the memorial would send a message of exclusion to those with different religious beliefs or none at all.

This misguided bill is a solution in search of a problem. The memorial as it exists today properly honors all of those who served. Both the World War II Memorial Commission and the American Battle Monuments Commission carefully chose the inscriptions that are integral to the memorial. It includes quotes spanning from the beginning of U.S. involvement in the war following the attacks on Pearl Harbor to the war’s end, including a quote from D-Day and two quotes from President Roosevelt.

This bill would set a precedent, which others may regret sometime in the future, for Congress to go back to memorials that have been carefully designed and add new controversial elements to our most treasured national sites years, even decades, after the fact. This could have the effect of drastically, and needlessly, politicizing the process for designing monuments.

The World War II Memorial was dedicated a decade ago this month. Now is not the time for congressional meddling, especially when doing so would be divisive and send a message of exclusion.

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