FFRF: Why Billy Graham statue does not belong in U.S. Capitol 

A black and white photo of Billy Graham preaching

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is sorry to see the addition of a statue of a white Christian nationalist in the U.S. Capitol.

This Thursday, a bronze statue honoring evangelist Billy Graham will be unveiled in the National Statuary Hall Collection to be one of two statues representing the state of North Carolina as a substitute for a statue of racist N.C. Gov. Charles Brantley Aycock. Making the tribute all the more untenable, the 7-foot statue depicts a gesturing Graham holding an open bible — and the pedestal is engraved with bible verses. Those verses are the pinnacle of Christian dogma: John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”) and John 14:6 (“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”). House Speaker Mike Johnson, a dyed-in-the-wool Christian nationalist, will be among the congressional representatives and others in attendance at the unveiling.

Sen. Tedd Budd, R-N.C., admitted the religious rationale for honoring Graham: “The legacy of Rev. Billy Graham is based on his simple message of forgiveness based on John 3:16. His lifelong commitment to preaching the Gospel, his fight for civil rights, his opposition to communism, and his spiritual guidance provided hope to hundreds of millions.” Budd is being generous. Graham was a purely religious figure with no redeeming secular achievements who certainly wasn’t a champion of civil rights unlike Martin Luther King Jr.

And he did a lot of harm to the secular fabric of this country. The Freedom From Religion Foundation was instrumental in calling the nation’s attention to the role Graham played in lobbying Congress to pass the National Day of Prayer. During a long rally in Washington, D.C., Graham called for such a day, saying “What a thrilling, glorious thing it would be to see the leaders of our country today kneeling before Almighty God in prayer.” FFRF sued over the unconstitutional act of Congress that Graham’s words inspired, which have spawned countless entanglements between religion and government.

FFRF’s co-presidents first wrote then-N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory in 2015 opposing a plan to erect a statue of Graham at the U.S. Capitol while applauding the decision to dethrone one honoring the white supremacist Gov. Aycock. Gov Roy Cooper in 2018 put the plan into action after Graham died that year at age 99. Unfortunately substituting Billy Graham for Aycock only swaps one divisive and unsavory figure for another.

As FFRF has pointed out in the past, Graham had a checkered history that included antisemitism, disdain for atheists, and other alienating and divisive views. Graham was on the wrong side of the leading issues of his time. The day after Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his letter from the Birmingham Jail — a letter addressed to white religious leaders like Graham who were doing little else other than “mouth[ing] pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities” — Graham mouthed a few more, arguing that King should “put the brakes on a little bit.” A released Watergate tape from 1972 caught Graham telling President Nixon that Jews had a “stranglehold” on the news. And Graham seemingly never met a U.S. war of aggression he didn’t favor or encourage the occupants of the Oval Office to wage.

Graham vociferously opposed gay rights and marriage equality, saying that “we traffic in homosexuality at the peril of our spiritual welfare.” Even in his 90s, Graham wrote a full-page ad appearing in several North Carolina newspapers “to urge my fellow North Carolinians to vote FOR the marriage amendment” in May 2012, which passed, banning gay marriage until it was later nullified. He once suggested, then withdrew the suggestion that AIDS could be a “judgment” from God. He belonged to a denomination that refused to ordain women, including his own daughter who defied the convention against preaching. The “Billy Graham” rule directing a man not to be alone with a woman other than his wife continues to influence evangelicals.

Perhaps the only saving grace in any of this is that the estimated $650,000 for the statue has not paid for by public funding.

“As our nation faces unparalleled threats to our secular democracy,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, “it’s unfortunate to see the personification of white Christian nationalism given such an honored perch inside the seat of our democracy.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 40,000 members and several chapters all over the country. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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