Last month, Bill S.6856-DeFrancisco/A.8704-Magnarelli passed both houses of the New York State Legislature. This bill would recognize “Here Rests in Honored Glory” as “the official state hymn of mourning in honor of all American veterans.”
According to the bill’s Assembly sponsor, Asm. William Magnarelli (D-Syracuse), the hymn was composed by Dr. Donald Miller, a Professor Emeritus at Onondaga Community College. Asm. Magnarelli describes “Here Rests in Honored Glory” as a “‘fitting tribute to those that served and made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom’” that “‘has been played in memory of our service men and women at events and ceremonies across the world.’” The hymn is based upon the inscription on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, which reads as follows:
HERE RESTS IN
KNOWN BUT TO GOD
This bill shouldn’t be controversial, right? Of course not. But here in New York, it is.
Last week, the New York Daily News reported that Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) had asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo to “‘celebrate Independence Day’” by vetoing this legislation. Noting the references to Christ contained within “Here Lies in Honored Glory,” Sen. Hoylman contended that adopting it as a state hymn of mourning would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and would contribute to a “‘“culture of profiling and religious discrimination.”’”
The Establishment Clause provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” In Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947), the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Establishment Clause was binding not just upon Congress, but upon state governments as well. However, contrary to Sen. Hoylman’s protestations, the Establishment Clause does not bar every mention or acknowledgement of religion by government; after all, Congress opens legislative meetings in prayer, and the phrase “In God We Trust” is placed upon American currency. The Establishment Clause simply bars government from endorsing or promoting any particular religious faith. Honoring veterans by adopting a state hymn of remembrance does not cross that line.