This weekend Americans will celebrate Memorial Day to honor those who have given their lives in service of our great nation. And just six days later on June 6, we will honor the 66th anniversary of D-Day, when our courageous Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy in World War Two.
Both of these occasions offer an opportunity to reflect upon the enormous sacrifices made to build and protect our nation.
It is also an opportunity to consider what those sacrifices were made to protect. What are the values, traditions and ideals that have guided us to being the most prosperous and free nation in the world? In other words, who are we?
In fact, the anniversary of D-Day gives us a piece of the answer to that question, with respect to a hotly contested topic in America today – the proper and historic role for religion in public life.
On June 6, 1944, Franklin Delano Roosevelt aired a powerful, six-minute prayer to the nation just hours after American troops landed at Normandy. His prayer urged the American people to a rededication of their faith, not through a “single day of special prayer” but by devoting “themselves in a continuance of prayer.” (Listen at www.newt.org/ddayprayer)
Americans were reminded by President Roosevelt’s prayer that the proper goal for America when facing a challenge is not to find excuses for defeat but to find the courage, determination, and resources necessary to win.
FDR’s prayer to the nation also showed how faith in God can bind us together as a country.
This demonstration - by the father of the modern Democratic Party no less - of the importance of faith to America’s civic culture stands in stark contrast to the modern Left’s hostility to God in public life.
Rather than seeing religion as a unifying force in America, the left instead sees religion as divisive. They have adopted an extreme interpretation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment to mean that government must purge all religion from public life, for that is the only way the government can be neutral between different religions and non-religion.
The problem with this interpretation is that the very historic American conception of our rights and freedoms relies on a higher moral order than the laws of man. The Declaration of Independence says we are “endowed” by “our Creator with certain unalienable rights.” This extraordinary statement assumes that God is sovereign over the affairs of the universe and that God created man. How then, can an interpretation of the First Amendment that requires government to ban “our Creator” from the public square adequately protect the freedoms endowed by that same Creator? It cannot.
It is this misguided and anti-historical view of the first amendment that has fueled a rash of anti-religious lawsuits in America. One suit in particular is particularly illustrative.
The American Civil Liberties Union, representing a parks service employee, sued to remove the 76-year-old World War I Memorial Cross in the Mojave National Preserve. To be clear, the Mojave cross was in the middle of the desert, eight and a half miles away from any major roadway. Imagine for a second the mindset of a militant secularist who is so terrified and offended by a cross in the middle of a desert.
The cross, covered by a plywood box while the case was being decided, was eventually uncovered after the Supreme Court ruled the cross could remain. However, the ruling was made on very narrow grounds that had to do with whether an effort by Congress to transfer the plot of land to private ownership was constitutional. It was not an affirmation that religion has a proper role in public life.
A few days after the cross was restored, it was stolen. An anonymous letter was later submitted saying that the cross was stolen to prevent “discrimination,” displaying precisely the kind of wrongheaded and misguided interpretation of the First Amendment the Left has created.
In the face of this assault on America’s historic conception of our rights and freedoms, it is imperative for America today to engage itself in a grand conversation about first principles – again, who are we?
Are we a nation whose freedoms are granted or taken at the whim of bureaucrats, judges and politicians? Or are we citizens whose rights come from “Our Creator” as it states in our Declaration of Independence?
Between this weekend and next, we have an opportunity to engage America in this very conversation.
At Newt.org, we have set up a page where you can listen to FDR’s prayer, along with an accompanying slideshow. You can help engage America in this conversation by forwarding this page to your friends and asking them if they think it was appropriate for FDR to engage the nation in prayer.
You can also call your local radio station and favorite radio shows and encourage them to replay FDR’s prayer, both to honor our fallen heroes and to remind America of the importance of faith to bind us together as a country.
The Left has spent the last several decades sewing confusion amongst America about the proper role for religion in public life. It will take a long and sustained effort to counteract their efforts. With your help, educating our fellow citizens about FDR’s prayer is a great start to that conversation.
---Newt Gingrich is a Fox News Analyst and author of To Save America: Stopping Obama’s Secular-Socialist Machine.
Fox Forum is on Twitter. Follow us @fxopinion.
Newt Gingrich, a Republican, was speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999. He is the author of the new novel "Treason" (Center Street, October 11) and co-author, with his wife Callista Gingrich, of "Rediscovering God in America: Reflections on the Role of Faith in Our Nation's History and Future" (Center Street, May 17, 2016).