The U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of two bills on Tuesday that would allow the use of religious symbolism at war memorials.
The first bill, the War Memorial Protection Act, was introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter as a response to a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that a 43-foot cross at California's Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial erected in 1913 was unconstitutional.
Existing laws allow for the use of religious symbolism at war memorials, but individual cases – such as the Mt. Soledad cross – are becoming targets of groups opposed to public religious expression. The House bill would engender terms that make it permanently legal for religious symbols to exist at military memorials.
The second bill, World War II Memorial Prayer Act of 2011, calls for the addition of a plaque to be placed at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. and inscribed with the prayer Franklin D. Roosevelt said on D-Day morning.
The nondenominational prayer begins "With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances."
Both bills are intended to honor fallen American soldiers, while recognizing the role faith has played in the lives of soldiers throughout U.S. history.
Rep. Brian P. Bilbray co-sponsored the bill and claimed it is an American tradition to honor fallen soldiers with religious symbolism.
"Our Constitution protects the freedom of religion, not freedom from it," Bilbray told lawmakers at the hearing. "This issue is one that has gone so far that we're actually talking about tearing crosses down over war memorials."
While Bilbray lamented past decisions that have kept religious items that many families find comforting off of memorial grounds, and thus championed the bills, some advocacy groups are against the new legislation.
Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, disagrees that religious symbolism at war memorials is in the best interest of fallen soldiers and their families.
"These bills dishonor the memory of our country's brave veterans by drafting them as fodder in yet another divisive 'culture war,'" Lynn said in a statement obtained by The Christian Post. "The House ought to be ashamed of itself. At a time when the nation faces serious economic and public policy problems, I am appalled that House members would waste time on this kind of distraction."
The bills will move to the Senate, where Democrats hold a slight majority. The Republican-led House voted strongly in favor of both bills.