Public Prayer in the Navy

Naval Law Review, Forthcoming

29 Pages Posted: 18 Apr 2006

See all articles by Steven R. Obert

Steven R. Obert

Government of the United States of America - U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps


Recently, certain Navy Chaplains have claimed that they should be able to pray "in Jesus' name" in all contexts - including at secular civic events. Their campaign prompted me to investigate the legal issues surrounding public prayer in the military, which resulted in this essay.

Public prayer in the military invokes a unique intersection between the Constitution's Establishment Clause and its Armed Forces powers. Because the military is composed of individuals of a multitude of religious backgrounds, the intersection is very relevant. Recent events at the United States Air Force Academy have further highlighted our nation's struggle with striking the right balance when it comes to religious expression in the military.

I found that whether public prayer is permissible depends considerably on its context. The legitimacy of any public prayer in the military relies to a large extent on the Armed Forces Powers contained in the Constitution. From there, two overarching factors become apparent. First, the more routine an event, the less likely it is that including public prayer would be appropriate. Second, the more inclusive or pluralistic the public prayer is, the less likely it is to encounter Constitutional problems. Beyond these two general observations, much of the analysis is driven by the facts in each scenario. I analyze three separate situations to highlight this: prayer at sea, prayer at official functions, and noontime prayer at the Naval Academy.

Keywords: chaplain, prayer, navy, military, religion, establishment, armed forces, first amendment

Suggested Citation

Obert, Steven R., Public Prayer in the Navy. Naval Law Review, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Steven R. Obert (Contact Author)

Government of the United States of America - U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps ( email )

United States

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