Rear Admiral William Lee

National Day of Prayer Speech on Religious Liberty

delivered 2 May 2013, Washington, D.C.


[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio. Minor editing for continuity (2)]

I had prepared exactly ten minutes worth of notes. I had practiced it. I know you're weary and so what I'm going to do is -- I left those notes over there on my chair, and I'm going to try to speak to you from the heart and take up just half the time.

To put this in context, I want you to know right up front that I'm not a chaplain. I wouldn't even describe myself as a religious man. I'm nothing more than a sinner in a sailor suit. But I -- I am a man of deep and abiding faith, a man of faith who happens to be wearing a uniform, and it is my honor to stand up here before you today representing the soldiers, the sailors, the airmen and Marines, and the Coast Guardsmen who have put on the cloth of our nation to serve their country.

(Thank you. [sustained applause])

I am not worthy of the honor to represent these fine men and women.

(Thank you...[more sustained applause])

The average Americans sitting in their armchair this evening watching the evening news will have little knowledge that the 317 million fellow citizens that occupy the United States of America have less than 1% of that population wearing the uniform.

If you add up all the men and women who have stepped up and volunteered to serve our nation, right now, who are on active duty in any of the five branches of the military, it is less than 1% of the total population.

If you add up all of the men and women who have ever served in the military wearing the cloth for any length of time, whether it be two years or thirty two years, that sum total would add up to a little less than eight percent of our population.

That person sitting in an armchair watching the news tonight will have little knowledge that every day -- if the statistics hold true for the last four years -- one or more of them will be killed in a mission related accident or mishap in combat. Ten or more will be seriously wounded, many losing limbs, being disfigured -- burnt, scarred, maimed -- disfigured for the rest of their lives. Some of those men and women will put on prosthetics, strap them on every day, and put that uniform on again, and continue to serve when they have a choice. They could go home.

And here's a statistic that should ring your bell: One of them on any given day is likely to commit suicide. Last year, 349 active duty members killed themselves each and every day of the week. In fact, every 65 minutes a veteran who has served his country commits suicide. That is a rate 300 percent greater, per capita, than the national norm.

The one thing all of these men and women have in common is that they all stepped up and volunteered. They did not have to do it. They are willing to go into harm's way, whether it be on patrol in Afghanistan or going out in the dark and stormy seas off of Kodiak, Alaska to rescue a fisherman in distress. They are willing to put their lives on the line. In so doing, they endure stresses that the average American would ever know [sic]. There is no other business quite like that of the United States military Armed Forces.

I ask that you pray for them. I ask that you pray for their leaders.

Right now, as we speak, leaders like myself are feeling the constraints of rules and regulations and guidance issued down by lawyers -- and that puts us in a tighter and tighter box regarding our constitutional right to express our religious faith. As one general so aptly put it, "They expect us to check our religion in at the door." "Don't bring that here." Leave that business to the chaplains." I'm here to tell you there's not enough chaplains to go around.

And who can tell that young man who is downtrodden and on his last legs, who has no hope, to go make an appointment to see the -- the chaplain, "Go get in line and wait" -- when the opportunity right now exists. Yet if I do something, such as I did just several weeks ago when I was looking in the face of a young man, 20-some years old, who at 18 months before put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger and survived -- when I looked at that young man and I heard his story, the rules say send him to the chaplain. My heart said, "Give this man a Bible."

Every 65 minutes a veteran pulls the trigger or takes their own life. I want you to remember that number. We remember it. We see it.

The problem that men and women like me face in uniform, who are in senior leadership positions, is that the higher you are the more vulnerable you are to being taken down. You get in the crosshairs of those people, who lay and wait outside the gate, waiting to take us to task for expressing our faith for so much as whispering to a young man who is on his last hope -- that there is hope, that I can just simply whisper "in here is the answer. Take it home. I'll talk about it if you want."

The lawyers tell me that if I do that I'm crossing the line. I'm so glad I have crossed that line so many times.

(Thank you. [sustained applause])

I'm trying to be brief.

When I left my outline over on the chair over there, I did, however, write down on the little back of a business card one little note that I did not want to forget. There are two places in the Bible where it says that Jesus "was amazed." One is at the faith of the Centurion,1 a simple soldier, a leader of men; and the other was at the unbelief of his own townspeople.2 I am telling you that your own Armed Forces, the sons and daughters of the men and women like you that are wearing the uniform -- there are thousands of them who have the faith of that Centurion. Yet we are being told to hide that light under a basket.

I'm telling you that I am coming out today to tell you I am not going to run from my religious freedoms, from my right under the Constitution to tell a young man that there is hope.

(Please...thank you. Please, please. [sustained applause])

I am not worthy of that.

I just want to leave you with this: We place great emphasis on leadership. Night before last I went on the Internet. And I went on And I went into the book section. And I went to their search engine. And I put into that search engine the keyword "leadership." And I did a search. I got 91,125 hits on books written on or about leadership.3 There are many, many good leadership books in there. No doubt. And I've read a lot of them. I cannot dispute their validity or the purpose that they were intended [for].

But the best book of leadership was nowhere on that list.

The best book of leadership is this book right here: the Holy Bible, the Scriptures written over the course of 1400 years or so -- because in this book it teaches you first and foremost how to be a follower, and you cannot be a leader until you know how to follow, and you have got a right and proper moral compass -- such is that that we read in the Holy Scriptures, in the Judeo-Christian system of values.

I ask that you men and women pray for us -- that you will pray that we will be able to weather the storm that I am almost certain will come; that we will not be required to put aside our constitutional rights to express our religious faith.

I am not talking about proselytizing. I am vehemently against that. I'm talking about gently whispering the gospel.

You're likely to see much ado about this in the future. But I leave you with this: This is not a Christian issue; it is not a Jewish issue or a Muslim issue or a Hindu issue. This is an American issue.

Pray for your United States military and let us take a stand and not run.

God bless you all.

1 The "Faith of the Centurion" passage is recorded in both Matthew (chapter 8) and Luke (chapter 7). Extended quotation from Luke 7: 1-10: "When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. There a centurionís servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, 'This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.' So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: 'Lord, donít trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one,'Go,'' and he goes; and that one, ''Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, ''Do this,' and he does it. When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, 'I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.' Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well." [NIV, Source:, emphasis added]

2 Mark 6:6. Extended quotation from Mark 6:1-6: "Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples.When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. 'Where did this man get these things?' they asked. 'Whatís this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isnít this the carpenter? Isnít this Maryís son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Arenít his sisters here with us?' And they took offense at him. Jesus said to them, 'A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.' He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith." [NIV, Source:, emphasis added]

3 Preceding lines rhetorically figured in Polysyndeton with the word "and"

See also: Adm. Lee's bio at the Dept of Homeland Security

Page Updated: 11/8/23

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