Message in Congress

Inasmuch as our greatest leaders have shown no doubt about God’s proper place in the American birthright, can we, in our day, dare do less?.... In no other place in the United States are there so many and such varied official evidences and abiding faith in God on the part of Government as there are in Washington…. Every session of the House and the Senate begins with a prayer. Each house has its own chaplain. The 83rd Congress set aside a small room in the Capitol, just off the rotunda, for the private prayer and meditation of members of Congress. The room is always open when Congress is in session, but it is not open to the public. The room’s focal point is a stained-glass window showing George Washington kneeling in prayer. Behind him is etched these words from Psalm 16:1: “Preserve me, O God, in Thee do I put my trust.”… On the south banks of Washington’s Tidal Basin, Thomas Jefferson still speaks: “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.” [These words of Jefferson are] a forceful and explicit warning that to remove God from this country will destroy it.”

— Robert C. Byrd in a message delivered in Congress on June 27, 1962, two days after the Supreme Court declared prayer in government schools unconstitutional.

Robert C. Byrd (1918–2010) was a U.S. senator from West Virginia, 1959–2010. A Democrat, he is best known as the longest-serving U.S. senator and at the time of his death the longest-serving member of the U.S. Congress (a feat since surpassed by congressman John Dingell of Michigan). A member of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940s, Byrd filibustered against the Republican-sponsored 1964 Civil Rights Act and supported the Democrat-led Vietnam War but later denounced racial intolerance and criticized the Republican-led Iraq War.

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