On the Hill: No Need to Pray, Congress

Today the American Humanist Association sent letters to all of the freshmen members of the U.S. House of Representatives, asking them not to join the infamous Congressional Prayer Caucus (CPC). This letter campaign is the second of its kind, after a similar effort was undertaken in 2012 after new members of Congress were elected. Since that time, around twenty members have left the CPC, removing much of its ideological and religious diversity so that the caucus is now largely made up of conservative Christians.

As an official caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives the CPC currently includes over eighty-five members of Congress. Its stated purpose is to: “1) recognize the vital role that prayer by individuals of all faiths has played in uniting us as a people and in making us a more generous, more cooperative, and more forgiving people than we might otherwise have been; 2) collect, exchange, and disseminate information about prayer as a fundamental and enduring feature of American life; 3) use the legislative process—both through sponsorship of affirmative legislation and through opposition to detrimental legislation—to assist the nation and its people in continuing to draw upon and benefit from this essential source of our strength and well-being.”

The CPC has received much notoriety for its off-hand comments about the role of religion in public life. It was a leading force behind H. Res. 888, which opposes any effort to remove sectarian objects from our nation’s public buildings and educational resources, and the caucus strongly advocated for the “In God We Trust” Resolution, which re-affirmed the phrase as our national motto. Many of its members, including Rep. John Fleming, are the chief opponents to allowing humanist chaplains into the military, in turn denying humanist soldiers their rights and jeopardizing their mental health. The Congressional Prayer Caucus is also one of the leading advocates for opening and closing each session of Congress with a prayer, which relegates nonreligious Americans and others who don’t pray to the status of second-class citizens.

Thankfully, the CPC seems to be losing popularity and prestige at a breakneck pace. Many of its members have decamped, and an embarrassing scandal last year at a prayer event on Capitol Hill, in which partisan attacks were levied, have made Democrats reconsider the value of mixing prayer and politics. The AHA hopes to build upon this promising trend by educating new members of Congress on the divisive impact the CPC has in both civic and social life for many Americans.

Humanists are encouraged to take a look at the Congressional Prayer Caucus membership list and to ask their representative to leave the organization if he or she is a member. Hopefully, by the time the 2016 elections roll around, the CPC will have disbanded and no new letters will need to be sent to incoming freshmen.