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One Nation Under God: The History of Prayer in America by James P. Moore, Jr.

The highly anticipated work, One Nation under God: The History of Prayer in America provides a unique lesson: it looks at United States history through the prayer life of its people. Author James P. Moore, Jr. spent over six years meticulously researching this ambitious project. From Native Americans to astronauts, from Founding Fathers to contemporary politicians, the text abounds with prayers of the people. The diversity of the United States is reflected in biographical sketches of those who helped to shape it — Benjamin Franklin, Elizabeth Seton, Frederick Douglas, Joseph Smith, John D. Rockefeller, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Irving Berlin, Marian Anderson, Joe Lieberman, Madonna — among many others.

In textbook fashion, Moore chronologically reviews United States history through the supplications of its citizens. (Keep in mind, too, this is actually a history of the United States, not America as stated in the book’s title.) Moore’s work is ecumenical in scope and presents prayer from all faiths, although emphasis is on Christian prayer, since Christians represent the majority in the U.S. Endorsements posted on the website for the project reflect that ecumenical scope. Father Theodore M. Hesburgh, former president of Notre Dame University, Rabbi David Wolpe, leader of one of the largest conservative Jewish Congregations in the U.S., and Reza Aslan, author of the bestselling explanation of Islam, No God But God, all praise Moore’s work.

Moore’s project began when he was unable to find a comprehensive book about the importance of prayer in the United States and decided to put the pieces together himself. Scheduled for simultaneous release are an e-book version and an abridged audio book generally narrated by Moore with actors playing the voices of historical figures. In some cases, the readers portray themselves — Frank Borman and John McCain, for example. The Duncan Group is also producing a film for PBS based on the book.

As the Senate takes up confirmation hearings for a new Supreme Court justice, and the legal battle about the teaching of intelligent design in public schools continues, Moore’s work is timely. This book is mandatory reading for anyone wishing to debate intelligently issues of Church and State separation. For example, Madalyn Murray O’Hair is widely accepted among conservative Christians as the person who removed prayer from public schools. The first Supreme Court decision to address the issue of prayers in the school, however, was handed down in Engel v. Vitale, in June of 1962. By a six-to-one majority, the court declared the prayer used in New York City Schools as unacceptable under the establishment clause of the US constitution.

Shortly after this landmark decision, the court agreed to hear two additional cases, including that of Murray v. Curlett. Murray O’Hair’s outspoken personality was perfect for television and she masterfully used the media to promote her case. The court voted eight to one in her favor, based on the same reasoning used in its earlier ruling in the New York case. Murray O’Hair’s blunt promotion of atheism, however, mistakenly led many to accept her as chief villain: the woman who stole prayer from the classroom.

Moore explains the issue of mingling prayer and government is not a new phenomenon. Elected president in 1796, John Adams, following the example of George Washington, annually issued proclamations for a day of fasting and prayer. His last proclamation was widely promoted by the Presbyterian Church, which may have cost Adams reelection.

In the late 1800s other denominations suspected the Presbyterian Church was trying to become the national church. Political opponents of Adams began a whispering campaign that successfully linked him to the church in the minds of voters even though Adams was never a Presbyterian. Moore admits many factors played a part in Adams’s loss in the next election, but Adams felt the incident played a crucial part in his defeat.

More than just presenting a political history, Moore investigates how prayer shaped the lives of business executives, artists, athletes, and others who shaped our nation. A chapter is devoted to the “The Dreamers: The legacy of slavery”, and another to “The Idealists” who led the country into the 20th century. Moore includes abundant examples of prayer including classic hymns, Negro spirituals, and prayers scribbled by soldiers entering battle. He also observes the impact of prayer books produced during the World Wars and the rise of mass communication media of radio and television. Today, Internet prayer sites are available to those seeking an online spiritual experience.

Moore’s credentials are impressive and add particular authenticity to his writings. He held several government positions including Assistant Secretary of Commerce for trade development under Reagan. A member of several corporate and non-profit boards, Moore teaches international business and corporate ethics at Georgetown University. In addition to appearing as a featured guest on CNN, CNBC, and Fox News, he writes and lectures on a wide variety of business and spiritual issues.

This is a groundbreaking work by a respected educator. Looking at the United States from the knees of those who fashioned its history offers a fresh perspective on the country’s past. This is required reading to fully understand that past and how it affects the issues confronting us today.

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