Explained: Did Melania Trump’s Lord’s Prayer Violate Church-state Separation?

Public prayer by First Lady at Donald Trump rally in Florida did nothing that past presidents didn’t do: Demonstrate their Christian faith publicly and openly.

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U.S. President Donald Trump hugs his wife Melania during a "Make America Great Again" rally at Orlando Melbourne International Airport in Melbourne, Florida, U.S. February 18, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump hugs his wife Melania during a "Make America Great Again" rally at Orlando Melbourne International Airport in Melbourne, Florida, U.S. February 18, 2017. Credit: Reuters
Alexander Griffing
Alexander Griffing

Joining her husband to address a rally in Melbourne, Florida on Saturday, First Lady Melania Trump began her address by smiling and saying to applause and cheers, "Thank you, let us pray." As her husband clapped and stood by for support, she declaimed the Lord’s Prayer - a foundational prayer of Christianity:

“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed is your name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespasses against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Thus on the 30th day of Donald Trump’s presidency, the president and his team seemingly launched his 2020 reelection campaign. Trump, 70, then took to the stage to whip up support, denounce the media and present his version of how is administration is running so far. But the rare appearance by Melania Trump, 46, at the event proved just as controversial, and not just for her brief call for unity and subsequent swipe at critics, hers and his.

Twitter immediately lit up with praise and shock at the First Lady leading the crowd in prayer. Trump supporters relished the “Libs flipping out” and heaped praise on her demonstration of faith. Critics heatedly argued that Melania Trump had breached the separation between church and state, some sniping that she had to read the prayer from a sheet, evidently not knowing the text by heart.

Fox News reports: Melania Trump attacked for reciting 'The Lord's Prayer' at campaign rally:

However, concern that her prayer somehow shows a new joining together of church and state in the Trump administration is unfounded. While the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution bars an establishment of a national religion, it makes no direct reference to a separation of church and state, although the Supreme Court has interpreted the establishment clause to infer a "wall of separation between church and state." U.S. presidents have often and openly offered Christian prayers while in office, and never mind their wives, who are not officially elected members of government.

President Barack Obama prayed every day, his White House advertised, and offered prayers in public, including this past July at the memorial service for police officers slain in Dallas, Texas. Obama also quoted scripture and offered a prayer every year in office at the National Prayer Breakfast, a yearly tradition that Donald Trump used to attack Arnold Schwarzenegger and vowed to destroy the Johnson Amendment, which bars religious institutions from endorsing political candidates.

Obama’s predecessor, President George W. Bush, also displayed his devotion publicly. Having run as a born-again Christian, Bush framed much of his foreign policy in religious terminology, declaring America’s struggle against radical Islam to be a battle between good and evil. Bush repeatedly used religious language in his speeches, offered prayers in public and declared national prayer days as a way to honor the 9/11 terror attacks. 

Bush even went so far as to tell Palestinian leaders in June 2003, according to the BBC, that God had told him to invade Iraq and attack Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.

Other presidents showed Christian values in other ways. Jimmy Carter, a Southern Baptist, taught Sunday school while in the White House. Bill Clinton, also a Baptist, could recite lengthy Bible passages from memory and skillfully employed religious language in his speeches. Harry Truman, a devout Baptist, spoke openly about how much his Christian values informed how he governed, but as a pious man was famously quoted saying, “I'm not very much impressed with men who publicly parade their religious beliefs.... I've always believed that religion is something to live by and not to talk about.”

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