Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at the 12th Annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast

February 05, 1964

Senator Carlson, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, Members of the Cabinet, Dr. Graham, my fellow Americans:

No man could live in the house where I live now or work at the desk where I work now without needing and without seeking the strength and the support of earnest and frequent prayer.

Since last we met, it has fallen to me to learn personally the truth Thomas Jefferson spoke so long ago, when he said:

"The second office of the Government is honorable and easy--

"The first is but a splendid misery."

In these last 70 days, prayer has helped me to bear the burdens of this first office which are too great to be borne by anyone alone.

We who hold public office are enjoined by our Constitution against enacting laws to tell the people when or where or how to pray.

All our experience and all our knowledge proves that injunction is good. for, if government could ordain the people's prayers, government could also ordain its own worship--and that must never be.

The separation of church and state has served our freedom well because men of state have not separated themselves from church and faith and prayer.

Senator Carlson, I believe that these annual prayer breakfasts serve a most useful purpose in both reminding and reassuring the people that those who hold their trust are themselves godly and prayerful men and Women.

In saying this, there is a personal thought that I would like to express to you: This federal city of Washington in which we live and work is much more than a place of residence. for the 190 million people that we serve and for many millions in other lands, Washington is the symbol and the showcase of a great nation and a greater cause of human liberty on earth.

In this Capital City today we have monuments to Lincoln and to Jefferson and to Washington, and to many statesmen and many soldiers. But at this seat of government there must be a fitting memorial to the God who made us all.

Our Government cannot and should not sponsor the erection of such a memorial with public funds. But such a living memorial should be here. It should be a center of prayer, open to all men of all faiths at all times.

If I may speak this morning as a citizen and a colleague and a friend, I would like to suggest to this group, which has done so much through all the years, that it undertake the mission of bringing together the faiths and the religions of America to support jointly such a memorial here in this federal city--the capital of the free world.

The world is given many statistics about the per capita vices of Washington, but the world knows all too little about the per capita virtues of those who live and labor here.

I believe--and I would hope that you would agree--that the true image of Washington is not that of power or pomp or plenty. It is, rather, that of a prayerful capital of good and God-fearing people.

[The President spoke first to the gentlemen in the hotel's presidential ballroom and then to the ladies in the east room.]

Mrs. Lankford, Dr. Graham, ladies:

I am glad to be with you again this morning at your annual meeting, but I still believe that when the prophet Isaiah said, "Come, let us reason together," he did not have in mind that the men and women should assemble in separate rooms.

Since we last met 1 year ago, all of us in this land have known the need of prayer. None has known that need so keenly as I have. If I may, I would like to relate to you a little personal experience from these days which fortifies anew the great teachings of the Book of Proverbs:

"Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it."

In my childhood, Mike your children-had the great blessings of a devout and faithful mother. In our home, as in yours, there was always prayer--aloud, proud, and unapologetic.

Through the long, busy, and sometimes hectic years since, observance of some of that training became irregular, especially the practice of returning thanks before each meal.

But in those first dark days of November, when the pressures were the heaviest and the need of strength from Above the greatest, Lady Bird and I sat down together to eat a meal alone. No word or glance passed between us, but in some way we found ourselves bowing together, and I found myself speaking the words of grace that I had learned at my mother's knees so many years ago.

We of this land have so much to be grateful for. The God above us has been good to us from the very beginning of this Republic.

With the duties which rest upon us, we have much to pray for--that we may, as a nation, be just in our strength, wise in our actions, and faithful in our trust.

The men of public life have a very special debt--a special debt--to the strong women who, as their wives and as mothers of their children, make possible the service of the public trust.

I think the Nation may understand this a little better now since the unforgettable inspiration offered so gallantly before the entire world by the widow of our gallant and beloved President, Mrs. John f. Kennedy.

Ours is a great nation, but we must always humbly remember that much of our greatness in the world is born of the godliness that we practice in the homes that you keep.

I believe, as I know you believe, that our children should be taught to pray; but I know and I believe, as I think you believe, that this teaching is our task in our homes-a task much too sacred to ever be touched by the state.

I would hope that we might all remember the petition of the father of our Country, George Washington, who urged his countrymen to offer "humbly our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and ruler of nations, and generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best."

Note: The prayer breakfast of International Christian Leadership, Inc., a nondenominational group of laymen, was held at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. In his opening words the President referred to Senator frank Carlson of Kansas, chairman of the board, International Council for Christian Leadership, Representative John W. McCormack, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the United States, and the Rev. William f. (Billy) Graham. Later in his remarks to the ladies he referred to Mrs. Lankford, wife of Representative Richard E. Lankford of Maryland and president of the congressional wives prayer group.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at the 12th Annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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