By Mikey Weinstein
president, Military Religious Freedom Foundation
Imagine a theocratic militia imposing its will on whoever it encounters; forcing its way of life on those unfortunate to live nearby; demanding assimilation, inflicting excruciating torture or even death on its enemies because they pray to a different god. A similar fate falls on their own citizens and fellow soldiers brave enough to question why.
This scenario is not a stretch of the imagination for any middle school world history student. Our history books are filled with stories of soldiers and kings conquering their enemies in the name of and because of their lord. But is the notion of a military whose orders were given by a spiritual being a forgotten part of human history as much as the Visigoths or Canaanites?
After all, we no longer live in ancient or medieval times; our military fights not for a sacred cause or holy premonition, but as a last resort to protect and defend the nation from its enemies pursuant to our cherished Constitution. Or do we? Unless steps are taken immediately to prevent the fundamentalist Christian evangelical proselytization of our nation’s military, America is dangerously tiptoeing closer to a modern day reincarnation of the Crusade’s Templar Knights.
Unfortunately for us, during the first 100 days of his administration, President Obama has been, sadly, more of the same when it comes to protecting the religious liberties of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. His inaction could not come at a worse time. Our nation continues to be at war against a fundamentalist Muslim threat, which seizes every opportunity to inspire new generations of terrorist fighters by comparing America’s actions to those of the Crusaders. Knowing this, why do we continue to allow fundamentalist Christian evangelicals in the military to incite and embolden our enemies and give fodder to those who want to kill and maim our children?
Instead of courts martial, demotion or discharge, senior military commanders guilty of proselytizing and limiting the religious freedoms of others have actually been promoted. Instead of taking steps to disband and prevent evangelical fundamentalist religious groups at our nation’s military academies from organizing, these movements have gone underground. Controversial faith speakers are still invited to address cadets, midshipmen and others, and military superiors and chaplains are given free reign to impose their own traditions and beliefs on all those who serve under them regardless of their subordinates’ own religious upbringing. Time and time again, the Pentagon has encouraged or turned a blind eye to these actions; something we learned to expect from the Bush administration, but were hopeful would be discontinued once he left office.
Opponents will argue that I am trying to take away our soldiers’ faith in God. That I am trying to remove Christianity from those wiling to and who, under the current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, may die in service to this country. This notion, much to the chagrin of my enemies, is false. Every soldier has the right to pray or not in the manner they see fit. This fact is true in the battlefield and in life. However, it is fundamentally wrong under any circumstance for that same soldier to directly or indirectly force his or her own religious traditions and beliefs on others under his or her command.
Our founding fathers instilled in our national fabric equality for all, and as a result, all Americans were given the right to live freely and practice their own religious and cultural traditions without bias. Furthermore, since our nation’s founding, our armed forces have brought together in service whites, blacks, Christians, Jews, Muslims and many other faith and ethnic groups, even as they were unable to eat at the same restaurants or attend the same schools with one another. At no point in our history has there ever been a religious test or requirement to serve our country. Our Constitution specifically prohibits it. But such a prohibited test now exists both implicitly and explicitly in our U.S. military. When one dons the uniform of our country, there is only one Cross, Crescent Moon or Star of David: the American flag. There is only one Bible, Torah or Koran: the Constitution. And, there is only one religion: American patriotism.
Every four years, our President takes the same oath; in fact our current president uttered its words twice. Let’s hope that before the next 100 days pass, President Obama will remember that the promises made in the presidential oath include the First Amendment. Further, that he will find fault with and punish the actions of those in the Pentagon who make a travesty of the religious liberties of those who choose to serve our country; a travesty that has now become a national security threat. When it comes to these constitutionally guaranteed freedoms, the men and women serving honorably in our nation’s military cannot afford a carbon copy of President Bush.
Mikey Weinstein is an honor graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, former Reagan White House legal counsel and general counsel to H. Ross Perot and is currently the president and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.