On February 21, 2018, US evangelist Billy Graham - one of the most influential preachers of the 20th Century, - died at the aged 99. Graham became one of the best-known promoters of Christianity, beginning his worldwide mission in large arenas in London in 1954.
In a 60-year career, he is estimated to have personally preached to 210 million people.
Graham reached millions more through TV - the first to use the medium to convey the Christian message on that scale.
Billy Graham: The man dubbed God's Ambassador
He became a committed Christian at the age of 16 after hearing a travelling evangelist and was ordained a minister in 1939. Graham came to wider attention in the United States when he held a two-month ministry in a giant tent in Los Angeles in 1949.
In the weeks after his passing a movement has begun to establish a national holiday for evangelist Billy Graham and an online petition at Change.org has already earned 88,000 signature in route to a goal of 150,000 signatures.
The holiday effort will likely meet resistance, because of concerns over the separation of church and state. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. has a holiday in his honor, but was recognized more for his impact on civil rights than for his religious preaching. Critics have already questioned Graham’s lying in honor at the U.S. Capitol. A growing number of editorials and stories about the debate have run in such publications as the Washington Post, Baptist News Global and TownHall.com.
Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the Miller Center for presidential and political history at the University of Virginia, told the Washington Post she thinks honoring someone whose primary service was the conversion of people to a certain faith with a Rotunda ceremony violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
“Not that he shouldn’t be lauded, but does he deserve to lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol? And once you open that door, where do you stop?” Perry told the Washington Post. “Lying in honor should be someone who served their country. Well, how did he do that?”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a state/church watchdog, has formally objected to the rare national honor being accorded to Graham. The posthumous rotunda tribute should be reserved for those known for civic and secular achievers. “The wisest path to social harmony and unity is for Congress to leave religion to adherents,” the FFRF noted in its complaint.