ACLU Sues to Prohibit Military Prayer, Crosses in Federal Cemeteries?

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Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery. Mark Wilson / Staff / Getty Images

Viral message claims the ACLU has filed lawsuits to remove all crosses from military gravesites and prohibit all military personnel from praying. It further states that 'thanks to the retched [sic] ACLU and our new (Obama) administration,' Navy chaplains can no longer mention Jesus' name in prayer, etc.

Description: Email rumor / Chain letter
Circulating since: June 2009
Status: False (see details below)

Email text contributed June 10, 2009:

Did you know that the ACLU has filed a suit to have all military cross-shaped headstones removed and another suit to end prayer from the military completely. They're making great progress. The Navy Chaplains can no longer mention Jesus' name in prayer thanks to the retched ACLU and our new administration.
I'm not breaking this one. If I get it a 1000 times, I'll forward it a 1000 times!
Let us pray...
Prayer chain for our Military... Don't break it!
Please send this on after a short prayer. Prayer for our soldiers Don't break it!
'Lord, hold our troops in your loving hands Protect them as they protect us Bless them and their families for the selfless acts they perform for us in our time of need. Amen.'
Prayer Request: When you receive this, please stop for a moment and say a prayer for our troops around the world.
There is nothing attached. Just send this to people in your address book. Do not let it stop with you. Of all the gifts you could give a Marine, Soldier, Sailor, Airman, & others deployed in harm's way, prayer is the very best one.

Analysis: This message repeats falsehoods already contained or implied in previously forwarded emails and adds a brand-new one to the mix. We'll take the allegations one by one:

Has the ACLU filed a lawsuit to remove all crosses from military gravesites?

No, the ACLU's official position is exactly the opposite:

The ACLU has long argued that veterans and their families should be free to choose religious symbols on military headstones — whether Crosses, Stars of David, Pentacles, or other symbols — and that the government should not be permitted to restrict such religious expression in federal cemeteries.

Source: ACLU website

Has the ACLU filed a lawsuit to "end prayer from the military completely"?

No, as affirmed in this quote from Deborah A. Jeon, Legal Director for the ACLU of Maryland:

Members of the military have a right to pray or not pray as they personally see fit, and that right is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. It is one of the fundamental rights they put their lives on the line to defend in service to their country.

Source:ACLU press release, June 25, 2008

Is it true that Navy chaplains can no longer mention Jesus' name in prayer?

No. No such prohibition has been enacted, or even proposed. Confusion on this issue may be linked to a stand the ACLU has taken against compulsory prayer in the military, or to a 2005 incident in which Navy chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt claimed he was being censored by his superiors "because I pray in Jesus' name," or both. In the latter case, the chaplain ran afoul of Navy rules requiring that prayers delivered in settings other than religious ceremonies (for example, secular public events) be non-denominational.

Source: ACLU press release, June 25, 2008 Stars and Stripes, Dec. 22, 2005

Sources and further reading:

FAQ: Why Does the ACLU Want to Remove Crosses from Federal Cemeteries?
American Civil Liberties Union website

ACLU Calls for End to Mandatory Prayer at U.S. Naval Academy
ACLU press release, 25 June 2008

Navy Chaplain on Hunger Strike at White House
Stars and Stripes, 22 December 2005

Last updated 09/19/13