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VMI Prayer Battle Could Define America's Fighting Force

Friday, 22 November 2002 12:00 AM

“Dinnertime prayers have been said at the 162-year-old military academy since Thomas J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson taught there,” Ray told NewsMax.com. “The prayers mention God but not Jesus Christ, and are given by a ‘cadet chaplain.’ Cadets are required to stand during the prayer, but are not required to stand at attention, bow their heads or fold their hands.”

Ray is hopeful that come January 2003, when the case comes to oral arguments before the 4th Circuit Appeals Court in Richmond, “the court will look to history and see that the lower court applied the wrong standard, exploring notions of religious freedom rather than ‘military necessity.’”

One of Ray’s favorite anecdotes of that powerful and poignant military necessity, recorded in his extensive brief to the appeals court, tells of VMI cadets ordered into the battle of New Market, May 15, 1864.

“Ten VMI cadets would be killed in action, and 47 wounded, on the field of honor that day, but not before cadets gathered for prayer before the final 26-mile march into New Market: ‘…In the gloom of the night, Captain Frank … sent up an appeal to God for His protection of our little band; it was an humble, earnest petition that sunk into the heart of every hearer.’”

Ray says he has made an exhaustive study of the role of prayer in the “special society” of the military, and the findings are remarkable. “Prayer has been the mainstay of the American fighting man since 1774 when the first prayer book was issued to members of the Continental Army.”

“There is even a study made at the conclusion of World War II that asked American fighting men what propelled them in battle. The answer was not the expected ‘for my buddies,’ but the power and comfort of prayer,” Ray told NewsMax.

His historical homework preparing for the appeal brief turned up no less than 67 different prayer books adopted by the branches of the American armed forces over a 225-year period.

Furthermore, he has inventoried the inaugural addresses of every American president and commander-in-chief from Washington to Bush. “Every one of them in some fashion appeals to divine providence,” Ray explained.

He has collected his “history lesson” in the appendices of his brief. “We will put these history lessons before the court,” he promised.

The compelling case that may forevermore define the axiom that there are no atheists in foxholes got its start in May when American Civil Liberties Union took up the cause of two cadets who objected on First Amendment grounds to the student-led prayer before the evening meal at state-supported VMI.

As the appeal looms in Richmond, Ray says that the ominous signs of things to come are already afoot. He points to a Washington Times piece from April 1 in which analysts said the legality of the Naval Academy’s 157-year tradition of lunchtime prayers was already being reviewed because of the VMI case.

Ray takes some comfort in the legal challenges ahead by noting that the judiciary has been characteristically remiss to interfere with how the commander-in-chief and his designated officers run the military establishment.

“The judiciary will defer to the military,” he says. And VMI is nothing if not an integral part of that special establishment.

“The Virginia Military Institute is first, foremost and historically a military institute, not a civilian college,” Ray noted. “The institute’s name was selected, according to state legislative records, to reflect VMI’s ‘characteristic feature’ as ‘military’ and set it apart from civilian colleges.”

“Furthermore, the Virginia Code makes VMI cadets members of the Virginia Militia. Reserve Officer Training Corps training is mandatory for every cadet. Therefore VMI is a part of America’s national defense establishment training ‘citizen soldiers.’”

Ray argues that the right of military leadership to allow and direct prayer through out the military has not been infringed before the Moody ruling.

He finds it unfortunate that the federal judge in the lower court, U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon of Lynchburg, accepted the ACLU argument that VMI was simply another state funded college or university, where official or public prayer “entangled the state with religion.”

“The Constitution places the nation’s Armed Forces first under the authority and jurisdiction, not of the judiciary, but of the Congress, and then the president, when acting as commander-in-chief,” Ray argued.

“U.S. courts consistently defer to the military leadership judgment under the doctrine of ‘military necessity.’ The Supreme Court ruled in 1955, “Judges are not given the task of running the Army,” and, in 1983, “centuries of experience have developed a hierarchical structure of discipline and obedience to command, unique in its application to the military establishment and wholly different from civilian patterns …”

Although not a VMI grad, this former member of the Presidential Commission on Women in the Military has taken to the cause of keeping prayer at VMI as one he sees as vital to the continued dominance of the American fighting man.

All the legalese is Ray’s province as an attorney, but in the end he sees history as the thing:

“In December of 1944, General George S. Patton ordered 250,000 prayer cards distributed to every soldier in the Third Army and 3,200 training letters to officers and chaplains to ‘urge, instruct, and indoctrinate every fighting man to pray as well as to fight …’”

Ray's refrain: “Military men will lead in prayer and lead in battle” – a refrain that will soon be heard loud and clear in the halls of justice.

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"Dinnertime prayers have been said at the 162-year-old military academy since Thomas J. 'Stonewall' Jackson taught there," Ray told NewsMax.com. "The prayers mention God but not Jesus Christ, and are given by a 'cadet chaplain.' Cadets are required to stand during the...
Friday, 22 November 2002 12:00 AM
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