Church-State Separation Group Demands End to Prayers at West Point Military Academy

Cadet_Chapel_USMAWest Point, New York — A Washington-based group that works to separate God from government is demanding that a prominent military academy end all prayers that are traditionally held during official school events.

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, led by Barry Lynn, an attorney and licensed “minister” in the United Church of Christ, says that the prayers being facilitated at West Point Military Academy in New York are unconstitutional. The organization send a letter to the institution last week asking that commanders cease and desist the practice.

“We have received several complaints about the United States Military Academy at West Point’s pattern of presenting prayers held throughout the four-year program of instruction,” the letter states, listing a number of events, including Thanksgiving dinners and graduations. “West Point’s inclusion of government-sponsored prayers at these events creates a pervasive atmosphere of religiosity and cannot be reconciled with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

“Cadets are uniformly told that attendance at these events are required,” the correspondence continues. “Being forced to attend an event that includes a prayer is at the heart of the kind of religious coercion that the Constitution prohibits. … The government does not have to physically force someone to utter a prayer or to genuflect before God in order to run afoul of that prohibition.”

It then asked that the academy respond within 30 days.

“West Point cadets should be able to train for service in our nation’s military without having religion forced upon them,” director Barry Lynn commented further. “Academy officials must respect the religious liberty rights of all cadets, who should be free to make their own decisions about prayer without government coercion.”

The organization also pointed to an atheist named Blake Page who recently dropped out of West Point just months before graduation, “charging that the institution is rife with fundamentalist Christian proselytizing.”

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However, others support the prayers at the academy and state that Lynn’s organization is wrong in attempting to remove God from West Point.

“George Washington was famous for his prayers for his soldiers,” Ron Crews of Chaplain Alliance told reporters. “He was the one who asked Congress to authorize chaplains to be in every brigade.”

Former Navy chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt agreed.

“[The ‘separation of church and state’ is] not in the Constitution, and it doesn’t mean to limit military prayers,” he told OneNewsNow. “The easiest way to prove that is that in 1802, Thomas Jefferson himself personally signed the Navy regulations, ordering chaplains to lead prayers on Navy ships.”

“Barry Lynn’s objective is to destroy Christianity in America. It has nothing to do with wanting to support the First Amendment under his understanding of it,” added retired Lieutenant General William “Jerry” Boykin, who now serves as vice-president of Family Research Council. “Prayer at West Point is a tradition. Because it is a tradition that derives from Christianity, Barry and others want to destroy that tradition because they are anti-Christian and want to erase any remnant of the influence of Christianity on our society.”

Until approximately 40 years ago, West Point required all cadets to faithfully attend church services out of its devotion to God and His word.

“Occasionally some friend, parent or new cadet will question the wisdom of obligatory chapel attendance. A former Commandant of Cadets answered this statement by saying that, should such emphasis on religion be neglected, West Point would fail in its mission,” an online 1958 publication about the history and beliefs of the academy outlines. “It is the Academy’s task to prepare as officers men who hold ‘duty’ as a sacred trust; ‘honor,’ a hallowed possession; ‘country,’ a treasured heritage. This type of man, the Commandant believed, can never be developed if God and His worship are left out of a man’s normal life.”

As previously reported, on December 1st, West Point hosted its first-ever homosexual “wedding” at its historic Cadet Chapel.

West Point has confirmed that it has received Lynn’s letter, and states that prayers during academy events are completely voluntary.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has been challenging public displays of Christian and religious symbols across the nation since 1992.

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  • davel

    There is nothing in the constitution that protects government from religion. Here is the full text; (Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.) There is no period behind the word religion, there is a comma meaning that congress shall make no law either respecting a esbalishment of religion, and, or congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise thereof( thereof is pointing us back to the word religion) In other words congress cannot make laws silencing religion. This ammendment was made to protect religion from government, not to protect government from religion.

    • Sean Kin

      Unfortunately you are incorrect in your assessments ‘davel”. The Supreme Court, who has been charged with the upholding and interpretation of the Constitution have found that in order to protect religion from the government, the government cannot be influenced by religion. For example, we look back to the KKK at it’s original founding. They prohibited Catholics from joining, and Catholics faced just as much persecution as Blacks, Jews, and Gays. The government finds that if it were to allow the promotion of religion, even a broad umbrella term such as Christianity, it would be discriminatory and impede on the rights of other Americans who do not share that faith, or have no faith like myself. The founding fathers of America were men of profit, men of science. While many of the founding fathers held some sort of faith, they were explicit in the need to keep that faith as far away from government as possible.

    • Andy

      Whatever you may think, decades of jurisprudence disagrees. Courts almost always agree with plaintiffs that allege that blurring the lines between church and state is constitutionally inappropriate, if they can adequately prove such blurring took place. I’m not issuing an opinion here, just remarking on legal status of this question.

    • Rayanne Stemmler

      @davel – you are mistaken. The amendment was put in place to protect BOTH religion AND government. The founders were painfully aware of how detrimental religious preference was/is to democracy.

    • Capuchin

      Yes, there is nothing in the Constitution that protects government from religion. However, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to Danbury Baptists expressing his intent to seperate church from state.

      To messers. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.


      The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.

      Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

      I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.

      Th Jefferson
      Jan. 1. 1802.

    • Darren Cohen

      It is intended to protect people’s right to worship freely. And not to be oppressed by religion. Regardless, obeying the Establishment Clause has the effect of protecting government from religion.

  • David Hollands

    The Bill of Rights was intended to protect the citizens against the government – preventing the government from forcing religion on them was the first right they established. The Supreme Court has repeatedly defended this right. Why is it hard for people to understand that everyone doesn’t share the same beliefs, and that the government is prohibited from forcing or endorsing any set of religious beliefs on its citizens?

  • raytheist

    Actually it must go both ways. Government must be protected from religious intrusion because Government and its Constitution must serve all the people, not just the people who follow the dominant religion of the day. If religious people want to shape legislation, they must do so by framing their argument(s) under reason in secular language so that all the people can weigh the issue on its own merits, rather than because it comes from this or that religion. The day America succumbs to Christian theocratic rule is the day democracy in America dies.

  • davel, you are wrong, those are TWO clauses, one to stop government from establishing a religion and one to prevent it from stopping people from worshiping as they choose. Establishing a religion is forcing cadets to pray according to one religion’s beliefs and that forcing of prayer is stopping them from exercising their own rights to worship according to their own beliefs. Wrong on both clauses!

    Obviously, since government can’t MAKE you worship one particular way, it also can’t stop you from worshiping your way. Not worshiping at all is one way to “worship”.