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- Bill Graham’s body will lie in honor in the US Capitol on Wednesday and Thursday.
- Graham will be the fourth private citizen to receive the honor.
- He follows Rosa Parks as well as two Capitol Police officers killed in the line of duty.
On Wednesday, the body of the legendary preacher Billy Graham will be taken to the US Capitol to lie in honor, making the evangelist just the fourth person to receive the ceremony who was not a lawmaker or service member.
President Donald Trump and other lawmakers will be on hand Wednesday morning for an arrival ceremony, and Graham’s body will remain in the Capitol until midday Thursday.
Thirty-three people have lain in the Capitol Rotunda, but until 1998 no private citizen had received the honor, according to the Architect of the Capitol.
All US presidents since Abraham Lincoln have lain in state, with other service members or elected officials chosen on a case-by-case basis. The ceremony has also been conducted for an “unknown soldier” from every US war dating back to World War I.
There are some differences for private citizens. For instance, when a person lies in state the body is guarded by one member of each branch of the military. For private citizens, who are considered to lie “in honor,” the body is guarded by the Capitol Police. Additionally, private citizens so far have not used the Lincoln catafalque – a platform that supports the casket.
The previous private-citizen recipients were:
- Jacob Joseph Chestnut and John Michael Gibson (July 28, 1998): Both were US Capitol Police members killed in the line of duty in 1998 when a man entered the Capitol and opened fire. Chestnut was the first African-American to lie in the US Capitol.
- Rosa Parks (October 30-31, 2005): The civil-rights leader was given the honor through congressional resolution. Parks is also the only woman to receive the ceremony.
For a nonpresident to receive the honor, either Congress must pass a resolution, or the leadership of the House and the Senate must agree to hold the ceremony.
House Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday said the decision to bestow the honor on Graham was a no-brainer. Rep. Patrick McHenry, who represents the western North Carolina district where Graham lived when he died last week, called Ryan and asked about the possibility.
“I quickly turned around and called Mitch McConnell, we got together and decided this is obviously something we should do, and we turned that decision around,” Ryan told reporters. “The president called me as well that morning. So between the president, Mitch, myself, and Patrick McHenry, we made that decision very quickly.”
Graham came to prominence in the 1940s and 1950s as an influential member of the growing evangelical movement, eventually reaching over 200 million with broadcasts of his sermons. The Southern Baptist minister met with every president from Harry Truman through Barack Obama, offering guidance and participating in many faith-based events.
While Graham was not without controversy, particularly for comments made about Jews that were made public as part of the Nixon tapes, he became known as “America’s Pastor.”