Opinion Pieces

FDR's Unconstitutional D-Day Prayer

On June 6, 1944, the long awaited efforts to establish a beachhead in northern Europe finally came to fruition. Many have seen actual film footage of the carnage. Many watched the Longest Day or Saving Private Ryan and think they know all about the anguish of those who gave the orders for that day. Most do not know the full depth of concern for the commander-in-chief and the top Allied commanders. Often it is only when people have no other hope, no other place to turn, they turn to prayer.

The night before D-Day, Pres. Roosevelt had addressed the nation by radio and talked of the Allied forces having fought their way to Rome. But he had known for several months that D-Day was coming. He knew it had already been delayed a day because of bad weather. He and Allied leaders had concerns that the Germans may have seen through the efforts to make them think the landing would come further north. 

By the time the invasion launched, Pres. Roosevelt had to feel helpless waiting on each report to find out details of the Normandy assault. It was not difficult to envision our brave Americans and their fellow Allies being shot and blown up on the beaches of France. 

Roosevelt followed the lead of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. As the 80-year-old Ben Franklin said when recognized to speak at the convention, “ In the beginning Contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection. Our prayers, sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered . . . I have lived, sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth – that God Governs in the affairs of men.” So much for Franklin being a “deist.” 

In a significant irony, Roosevelt and those who wrote the Constitution did not know that one day the arrogance of American elitists who had grown wise in their own eyes and who decry prayers like that requested by Franklin and delivered by FDR on national radio would be deemed unconstitutional. With historic ignorance so pervasive among our federal judges, a majority have fallen prey to the distorted few that the prayers that brought about our Constitution would be unconstitutional. Who would have guessed that decades after the moving, powerful prayer on D-Day by FDR, far less emotional and benign prayers in public would be struck down by our new bastion of divine wisdom - federal courts? 

Here is a little more background on D-Day to help paint just how desperately concerned U.S. leaders were. Roosevelt knew that there had been a practice run with a small contingent of the overall landing personnel only about a month earlier that was a disaster. Though assignments were given to insure that the mock landing would not be compromised, the Germans penetrated the practice on the southwest coast of England at Lyme Bay. The result was hundreds of soldiers and sailors killed and ships sunk including the tanks and equipment they were carrying. It was such a horrible debacle and there was a fear a big deal being made of the losses might alert the Germans to the pending Normandy invasion, so the deaths were not even reported to families until over a month later following D-Day. It gave new meaning to the military description “situation normal - all fouled up” or SNAFU for short. 

Naturally, the horrible results left the Allied commanders, including Roosevelt, heartsick to think that same outcome could be multiplied exponentially when the real thing happened. None wanted to let their minds take them to just how completely devastating the effort could be.

Yet they knew if they threw more than 300,000 soldiers and sailors into a living hell and all became lost as it certainly could have, Hitler might then be unstoppable. If the same percentage of ships and men of those landing in the Lyme Bay practice were lost during the Normandy invasion using about 7,000 vessels and 160,000 troops on June 6, it would have been potentially the worst debacle in military history. Some may think that by D-Day, the War was won. They would be wrong. In fact, even months later, the German offensive, known as the Battle of the Bulge, came close to succeeding.

The President of the United States used his authority to coerce national radio time to pray to “Almighty God,” “Lord,” and “Father." While he called the aggressors “unholy,” “apostles of greed and racial arrogances,” “unworthy,” he was apparently unaware that they were merely “privileged alien belligerents” at worst. Roosevelt even used the taboo reference in praying that God would grant Americans “faith in our united crusade.” Nowadays, government cannot even post the Ten Commandments as a historic tribute, if onlookers are encouraged to read them. The U.S. President was praying and urging, even more than the Commandments, in his plea for faith in God - during the federally controlled radio air time.

Understanding the catastrophic fiasco that was the landing practice at Lyme Bay, England, you get a little better feel for the almost overwhelming anxiety that was D-Day for its leaders. You get a little better understanding of the height of the commitment of those landing on that fateful day. With that appreciation, here are the verbatim words of our nation’s President, Franklin Roosevelt, speaking live on national radio, June 6, 1944:

“My Fellow Americans : Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far. And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer.

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity. Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith. 

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph. They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest -- until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men's souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom. And for us at home -- fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them -- help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too -- strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces. And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment -- let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace -- a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God. Amen.”

Now, there is a prayer that 3,000 years earlier might have been another notable Psalm.