Maintaining Prayer at Capitol Hill

Continuing on the faithful tradition of our founders
( [email protected] ) Oct 31, 2003 10:34 AM EST

Capitol Hill -- On Wednesday, Oct 29, President Bush reaffirmed his dedication to the Faith based initiative - But he’s not the only one at Capitol Hill who keeps pace with faith. More and more, members of Congress seek guidance from God through bible and prayer sessions.

"As a freshman member of Congress in the minority party, I need to be constantly connected to the Holy Spirit to stay strong," Majette, a Democrat from Georgia, said.

Many legislators meet for informal prayer sessions and bible studies before debates; organized prayer breakfasts are also part of their weekly schedules. All who attend agree that the sessions are a great source of strength.

"I found prayer doesn't hurt anyone and it's often a source of strength,” said Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., who attends Bible study classes at the Capitol and hosts impromptu prayer sessions with friends.

“It’s sort of a time of listening and a brief closing prayer in my office," Tiarht said.

“It’s the finest hour of the week,” agreed Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn. "I've met with a senator friend of mine to pray about the world and pray about other countries and each other. There's a lot of prayer. It's a huge source of strength for members of Congress."

According to Daniel Dreisbach, a professor of Justice, law and society at the American University in Washington, church and state have been linked since the time of the Founding Fathers, despite constitutional constraints put between the two. Even in the earliest years, worship services were commonplace on public grounds. 200 years later, Congress continues to open sessions with prayer and observes a National Day of prayer – a congressional tradition adopted in 1952.

"We don't ask people to shed their religious beliefs once they step into the halls of government," said Dreisbach.

To Dreisbach, religious beliefs are as ingrained as political affiliation because so many of a person’s ethics, morals and beliefs lie in their religion.

However, opponents believe religious beliefs should not be brought to the public office, but be left at home.

"There are a plethora of tax-exempt churches right around the corner from the Capitol," said Laurine Gaylor, co-founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. . "Why don't they pray there?"

Gaylor also warned of a “coercive” element to formal and informal prayer groups.

"It's like telling staff people, `If you want to get in good with your boss, you have to be praying,” said Gaylor.

Melissa Rogers, visiting professor of religion and public policy at Wake Forest University Divinity School, agreed.

"Because Washington is a place for networking, people who do take part in these activities should make it clear to their subordinates that it's not an expectation in any way," said Rogers.

Nonetheless, the faithful continue to pray, not only in public sessions, but also in the privacy of their own homes.

"I regularly take time to pray by myself and with others to offer thanks and seek guidance," said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. . "As a Christian, I believe that God wants us to talk to him about anything in our life."

Jennifer Smith, spokeswoman for the Center for Christian Statesmanship founded by conservative pastor D. James Kennedy of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said prayer transcends politics.

"Capitol Hill can be a really stressful arena to work in and ... it's important that believers know they aren't out there fighting the battle alone," she said. "The prayer that happens on Capitol Hill is a really important part of (congressmen's) days."

Tiahrt agreed. "(Congress) is such a different lifestyle," he said.

"I pray for my family quite a bit. Family is eternal, and this job only lasts two years."