Oklahoma's newly elected Republican Senator, James Lankford, was appointed the new co-chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, the caucus' co-chair and founding member, Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., announced on Thursday.
The caucus, which works to protect individuals' rights to religious freedoms, including the right to freely pray, consists of a bipartisan group of 80 Congress members. The 46-year-old Lankford, who joined the caucus when he first won election as a representative in 2010, becomes the first senator involved in the caucus, making it a bicameral assembly.
"The Congressional Prayer Caucus has worked successfully to advocate for and protect values that are fundamental to the fabric of our nation, and I'm honored to serve as co-chairman," Lankford said in a statement shared with The Christian Post. "This Caucus has worked together on a bipartisan basis to preserve the presence of religion, faith, and morality in the marketplace of ideas. It is vitally important that Congress respects these values in public policy, as well as culture."
Rep. Randy Forbes, meanwhile, commented to CP: "I am confident that Senator Lankford will prove to be a valuable partner, not only in the growth of the Caucus, but also in continuing the fight for the ability of all Americans to freely exercise and live by their religious beliefs. I look forward to working with him, along with the over 80 other Members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, on a number of legislative issues this next year to protect the constitutional right to religious freedom, so that our nation may continue to draw upon and benefit from this essential freedom."
The primary function of this caucus is to sponsor a weekly prayer session held in the Capitol building for Congress members to be able to pray for those in need in their home districts. Lankford said that another function of the caucus is to address the numerous infringements on religious freedoms caused by government or judicial and legal activists.
"It is a bipartisan gathering, to be able to pray for the needs back in our districts, for our families and each other," Lankford told Tulsa World. "Another thing the prayer caucus does is to address religious liberty issues around the country as they arise."
An example of religious liberty infringement in which Lankford looks to fight against is the Army chaplain who was reprimanded after telling an Army suicide prevention class how his relationship with Jesus helped him defeat his depression.
The other issue Lankford cited was the struggle faced by Christian companies like Hobby Lobby, and other Christian organizations, that have to fight strenuous legal battles so that they don't have to abide by the Health and Human Services mandate that forces employers to provide abortion-pill and contraceptive coverage to their employees on their company health insurance plans.
"Every generation has to protect every one of their rights, whether that's freedom of the press, freedom of speech, or freedom of faith. You have to remain diligent," Lankford asserted.
Forbes praised Lankford's commitment to the protection of religious liberties and commented that "Throughout his service in Congress, Senator Lankford has demonstrated a staunch commitment to protecting the constitutional right of religious freedom, and fighting for the ability of all Americans to freely exercise and live by their religious beliefs. Freedom of conscience is part of who we are as a nation, and I look forward to working together with Senator Lankford to preserve this fundamental freedom."
In an essay published Friday by Fox News on the history of Religious Freedom Day, Lankford wrote that religious freedom is not just a concept that's contained within religious institutions, it is a concept that should be enjoyed in every aspect of life, and should definitely not be limited in the work place.
"Over the last few years, there have been many heated conversations in our own country about the role of religious freedom in our society, like pubic prayer, abortion, college campus organization, religious symbols, and many others," Lankford wrote. "Last summer's Supreme Court [Hobby Lobby] decision affirming the right to live and work in accordance with one's convictions was contentious, but the High Court reinforced the right of Americans to not just have a faith, but to actually enter the marketplace and practice that faith as well. Religion that is contained only within a church building is a weekend hobby, not a personal faith."
Before joining Congress in 2010, Lankford worked as a servant of the Lord, working for 15 years at the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma as the program director of America's largest Christian camp, Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center.