Naval Academy Will Continue Mealtime Prayers

Naval Academy Will Continue to Say Grace (AP)

The Naval Academy has no plans to drop the regular saying of grace before its midshipmen’s lunch, despite a policy issued this week by the Air Force to discourage most public prayer, a spokesman said. The Naval Academy is the only U.S. military institution that holds formal prayer at lunch, a ritual that might date to its founding in 1845. Its chaplains say grace at the mandatory lunch for its more than 4,100 midshipmen.

Academy spokesman Cmdr. Rod Gibbons said there are no plans to change the tradition of what he has called “devotional thoughts.” Prayers are nondenominational and are led by Roman Catholic, Jewish or Protestant chaplains.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2003 that mealtime prayers at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va., violated the First Amendment. The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Maryland and the Anti-Defamation League have asked the Navy to stop the lunchtime prayer based on that ruling, but academy leaders have declined. David Rocah, a lawyer for the Maryland ACLU, said the organization has not been able to bring a suit because midshipmen are reluctant to “begin their career by suing the Navy.”

The Air Force Academy, in Colorado Springs, Colo., holds 20 seconds of silence before lunch, and no prayer precedes the noon meal at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. The new Air Force regulations came after several internal and external reviews that questioned evangelical proselytizing by faculty, staff and cadets at the Air Force Academy.

These prayers at a mandatory government function are almost certainly in violation of decades of Supreme Court rulings on the Establishment Clause. Further, they serve no obvious secular public policy purpose.

Still, this is no real surprise. The Navy, far and above moreso than the other armed services, is bound by tradition. The Navy has, for example, held the line against eroding the officer-enlisted distinction far moreso than its sister services. While weapons and tactics evolve quickly, the culture of today’s Navy would be quite familiar to an 18th century sailor from the British Royal Navy, right down to the uniforms.


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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. whatever says:

    The military is a voluntary organization. If you don’t like the policy, don’t join.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Well, no. It is a government organization that must abide by the Constitution of the United States and the rulings of the Supreme Court.

  3. kender says:

    Actually the decades of SCOTUS rulings are false…the First amendment says:
    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,..”

    NOT “Congress shall make no law respecting a religious establishment”!!!

    Make that distinction kids…simply because prayer occurs on government property by government employees, (who retain their right to worship as they see fit while employed), does NOT mean that the government is “respecting and establishment of religion”… means that people are exercising their RIGHT to worship as they see fit.

    Never mind….I am sure that years of twisted thinking has created a whole slew of people that can’t understand the distinction between “establishment of religion” vs. “religious establishment”.

  4. Ogre says:

    I have yet to understand the logic that equates any person saying a prayer with Congress establishing a law. Does the opposite hold true, too? So if a Naval Officer says, “Drop your drawers,” does that come with the force of a law made by Congress?

  5. GM Roper says:

    I don’t believe this is quite the same as a “government institution” any more than say the Supreme Court and the two houses of congress which start each day with a prayer.

    The establishment clause has been twisted far from its original intent in my opinion.

  6. Jay says:

    Strip away all the politics for a second. Why would we want a military that doesn’t pray?

  7. kender says:

    The jihadists pray, I am certain, so at the least, mentally, and emotionally, we must counter force with like force…..luckily, when it comes to force in this realm of existence, we kick ass against the jihadis…..

  8. Frank says:

    “The Navy has, for example, held the line against eroding the officer-enlisted distinction far moreso than its sister services.”

    Perhaps a reason for better officer retention in the navy. Senior officers in the army wonder why junior officers leave the service. Well, the army has killed the classical military. An ambitous cadet entering the army finds that his hard work rewards him no more privilage than a private…well, its ok…It mirrors our present society, however the enchantment of a military lifestyle evaporates. Never to be found again until a millenial thunderstorm brings it crashing back to earth.