WASHINGTON — The Reverend Billy Graham received one of the highest honors in the land when his remains were moved to Washington, DC Wednesay to lie in honor beneath the US Capitol Rotunda.
However, some are now questioning whether it was too great an honor to bestow upon a religious leader.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Barbara Miller, director of presidential studies at the Miller Center for Presidential and Political History at the University of Virginia, believes honoring Graham in this manner violates the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution.
“Not that he shouldn’t be lauded, but does he deserve to lie in honor in the US Capitol? And once you open that door, where do you stop?” Perry told the Post.
“Lying in honor should be someone who served their country. Well, how did he do that?” she asked.
House Speaker Paul Ryan’s staff explained Graham’s service and why he deserved the honor when he announced the news.
“Rev. Graham, who passed away last week at 99 years of age, dedicated his life to proclaiming the Gospel – traveling to 185 countries to preach in-person to over 200 million people. He also served as an adviser to 12 consecutive US presidents and was a fierce advocate for civil rights and ecumenical inclusion,” the news release read.
“Lying in honor at the US Capitol is a way for Congress, and the country, to pay tribute to distinguished Americans who have passed,” the release continued.
The ceremony to commemorate Graham’s life was deeply religious as President Donald Trump, Speaker Ryan, R-WI, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, all celebrating Graham’s life of faith and the way he dedicated his life to serving his Savior, Jesus Christ and growing God’s kingdom.
Only three other civilians have received the honor: two US Capitol Police officers killed in the line of duty and civil rights icon Rosa Parks.
In an article in the Boston Globe, Joe Fitzgerald likens the honor bestowed upon Graham at the Capitol as a reflection of faith in America.
“Deep down, despite the politically correct absurdities that assail us, we remain creatures of faith,” he writes.
Fitzgerald points out that the same leaders who mock faith or work to push it out of the public square are the first to offer “thoughts and prayers” when there’s a natural disaster or other tragedy.
“But Billy reminded us faith is more than a tool to be used in a moment of crisis; indeed, it is an everyday resource,” he writes.
“Evangelical Christianity, whether you like it or not, has always been at the center of the Republic, since the 18th Century. It’s only in the last decade or so that evangelicals have been forced to live without cultural power, to be at the periphery. Graham was the embodiment of a major stream of American culture. Not just religion, but American culture," John Fea, historian of American religion at Messiah College, told The Washington Post in an interview.
Fitzgerald also wrote Rev. Graham’s prayer was for America to truly be one nation under God and wonders if the nation will ever see the likes of him again.
“As a nation we sure need to,” he writes.