WASHINGTON — The World War II Memorial in Washington may soon have a new prayer inscription added, disappointing secularists and rights groups who had opposed the measure based on opposition to religion displayed in public spaces.
President Barack Obama signed a law Monday calling for the fountain memorial to display the text of a national prayer given by Franklin D. Roosevelt during the D-Day invasion of Europe in 1944, which unleashed fierce fighting and eventually led to the end of the war.
“With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace, a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men,” the prayer reads in part.
The addition was sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Mary Landrieu, D-La., and supported by the Christian Coalition of America, one of the country’s largest conservative political groups.
The Christian Coalition said the memorial will help recognize the power of prayer during wartime.
“President Roosevelt asked us to come together to pray for these courageous heroes, and his words provided strength and comfort to a grieving nation,” Portman said in a statement Tuesday.
But the measure had drawn criticism for publicly advocating Christianity from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Inquiry, a nonprofit secular advocacy group based in New York that aims to end the influence of religion on public policy.
The prayer addition is “inappropriate” and “shows a lack of respect” for the religious diversity in the United States, including about 30 percent of U.S. servicemembers who are non-Christian, the ACLU wrote in a letter of opposition to Congress last year when the proposal was introduced.
Four other groups including the American Jewish Committee and the Hindu American Foundation signed the letter last summer.
The FDR prayer mentions “our Lord” and “almighty God” throughout, and calls on D-Day troops “to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization,” though there is no mention of Jesus Christ.
“The level of religiosity within a given prayer is really beside the point,” said Paul Fidalgo, communications director for the Center for Inquiry. “The real issue that it is a prayer, regardless of the degree. It is an invocation within a religious tradition.”
Fidalgo said the presence of the prayer at the national memorial lends “a kind of endorsement weight” to Christianity.
Groups such as the ACLU and the Center for Inquiry support the free exercise of religion by Americans but oppose government endorsing or favoring specific religions.
The prayer inscription will be added to the World War II Memorial, located on the National Mall between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, after it is reviewed and approved by the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission.
Under law, the commission has the final say on monument construction on the Mall.