WASHINGTON—Summer tourists flock to the National World War II Memorial on the Capitol Mall to study the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his American generals. A new engraving may be joining the others soon: a prayer Roosevelt shared with America on D-Day.
The World War II Memorial Prayer Act authorizes a plaque memorializing the roughly 600-word prayer Roosevelt delivered by radio on the morning American soldiers invaded Normandy’s beaches. The bill passed in the House Monday evening on a 370 to 12 vote and unanimously in the Senate earlier this month.
“This transcends partisan politics,” Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, told me. Johnson originally sponsored the measure in the House.
But it has taken a long journey to the president’s desk. A 2011 sister bill died in committee, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) opposed the measure in 2013.
The ACLU and several other groups wrote a letter protesting the act when the Senate introduced the most recent version in July 2013. The letter said the plaque “shows a lack of respect” for religious diversity by using a prayer that upholds “Judeo-Christian” values. It also said that to modern soldiers who aren’t Christians, the plaque divides rather than unifies.
Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., argued against the bill during the House debates on Monday afternoon. “The addition of the prayer would take away the existing purpose of the memorial,” she said.
“There has been some controversy,” said Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., during the Monday debates. But he still supports the bill because it will serve as a timely memorial to veterans. “It’s now our time to pass this legislation,” he said.
Johnson, who served 26 years in the Air Force, was inspired to sponsor the act after meeting George “Poppy” Fowler, a rear gunner on a World War II bomber. Fowler testified in favor of the bill back in 2011.
“There is no better tribute,” Johnson told me. “I don’t understand anyone who would oppose it.”
The prayer is non-sectarian, asking God to protect American soldiers and to give faith to those at home. Roosevelt did not set aside a day for prayer: “Because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer.”
The Ohio Christian Alliance, a political nonprofit that informs and works with Christian voters, first suggested the plaque. Before Johnson took up the cause, the group collected signatures from citizens and veterans’ groups.
The bill should arrive on the president’s desk soon, where it has an uncertain future. When the bill was introduced in 2011, Bureau of Land Management Director Robert Abbey objected to the plaque because it would “dilute” the WWII memorial’s message.
If President Barack Obama signs the bill, the Department of the Interior will talk with the Ohio Christian Alliance and other groups about design, placement, and cost. Taxpayer dollars will not pay for this plaque—instead, private groups will raise the money. The Ohio Christian Alliance hopes plans will go forward by the end of this year.
Wyoming residents Richard and Mary Daniels visited the World War II Memorial Tuesday to show it to their daughter. They paused by the Pacific side of the memorial to remember Richard’s father, who served for 13 months. Most of his unit died, and he was discharged after shrapnel lodged in his left hip. Mary’s father also served in the war, earning two Bronze Stars. Before he died 19 years ago, he would point to pictures of fallen soldiers at the Battle of the Bulge and say he walked past those very scenes.
Both of the Daniels support the idea of the new plaque. “My dad would love it,” Mary said.