Prayers at West Point Military Academy under fire

WEST POINT, N.Y. — A Washington-based group that promotes the separation of church and state has demanded that a military academy end prayers during official events.

The Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) sent a letter to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point claiming that the "academy's prayer policy runs afoul of the Constitution and violates the rights of cadets."

AU claimed that invocations at West Point events, including Plebe Parent Weekend, Ring Weekend, Thanksgiving Dinner, the Martin Luther King Award Dinner, and graduation, were unconstitutional and coerce cadets to participate in and endorse religion.

Alliance Defending Freedom responded to the prayer complaint on behalf of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty to the United States Military Academy at West Point.

"The First Amendment allows public officials to acknowledge our nation's religious heritage," said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel David Hacker.

Since the Revolution, the Military has offered opportunities for soldiers to pray. Historical records stated that General George Washington often sought God's help in prayer. West Point has continued the tradition of offering invocations since its founding in 1802.

"Anti-religious groups with misguided ideas about the First Amendment should not be allowed to destroy a time-honored and perfectly constitutional American custom," said Hacker.

AU believes that prayer is a form of religious coercion.

"West Point cadets should be able to train for service in our nation's military without having religion forced upon them," said Lynn in a press release.

According to ADF, the historical practice of offering prayer, especially at military and university functions at West Point, does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Rather, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit has stated, invocations such as the ones offered by West Point chaplains and cadets, "solemnize public occasions, express confidence in the future, and encourage the recognition of what is worthy of appreciation in society."

The letter also explains that, contrary to AUSCS's accusations, "West Point does not require cadets to participate in the invocations or even listen to them" and "two federal courts of appeals rejected the notion that prayers at significant public university events coerce attendees to participate in religion."

"Our Founding Fathers opened their meetings with prayer and ensured this freedom would be protected in the Constitution," added Hacker. "It is unfortunate that groups like Americans United disrespect the history behind our brave military men and women, who train to preserve this freedom for future generations."