Sunday, July 16, 2006

Military Religious Freedom Foundation

Religious freedom may well be the greatest blessing of American heritage. The Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock to escape discrimination. William Penn took the lesson a step further and provided a refuge not only for his own but also for those who disagreed with him. So did the Catholics that founded Maryland, only to be subject to discrimination once Protestants outnumbered them.

According to historian David McCollough, there was some fear that the religious rivalry between Massachusetts Puritans and Virginia Episcopalians would be an obstacle for the colonies to defend themselves against royal aggression. Fortunately, the founding fathers understood that they needed to be above religious differences if they wanted to defend America's liberty. Without the founders' ability to put their religious differences aside, there might not be a United States of America.

All the more troubling is the fact that there is an organized effort by extreme evangelicals to impose their religious preferences by utilizing their power in the nation's armed forces. Jesus Christ taught us to live by the Golden Rule. How would we feel if our children were told by their superiors that they had murdered God?

Yet that is what has been happening at the Air Force Academy.

How would we feel if our superior officers begun preaching their religious views in the service? To be sure, military officers ought to enjoy the right of free speech. But when they are exercising the power of the government over people of other faiths then they have to respect the dignity of their subordinates. Surely, Jesus would not want us to create situations where power rather than liberty determines our religious choices.

May be, you do not share my theology about the Golden Rule. Thank heavens, I cannot impose my views on you. That's because the founding fathers created a red line between the power of the government and religion.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation wants to keep it that way. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has crossed the line by allowing radical evangelical officers to subject their subordinates to their sermons. In defense of our soldiers' religious freedom, Mikey Weinstein has founded the foundation and is suing the Pentagon.

As the son, grandson, and brother of soldiers and as a veteran myself, let me say that I am happy that none of my superior officers confronted me for being Mormon. That would have been very uncomfortable for me in the German armed forces.

Military officers have the power over the life and death of our soldiers. That's the way it has to be in the armed forces. Therefore it is doubly important that we protect the conscience of our soldiers from abuse of power.

That's what the Golden Rule is about. That's what the United States Constitution is about. If we love America then we need to rally to the Constitution. The most virtuous way to do that is to defend the rights of people other than ourselves.

Our soldiers are Jewish and Muslim, Christian and Hindu, Sikh and Wicca, believer and atheist. The founding fathers understood that this makes America strong. In part, it is the essence of freedom. Let's keep it that way and support the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.


Blogger NFlanders said...

I agree whole-heartedly. I don't know what is in the water in Colorado Springs, but it's a shame that the Pentagon has let this situation fester so long.

I think this kind of nonsense threatens the professionalism of the military, which should be a concern to everyone.

Anonymous Matt Elggren said...

Very good and timely post, Hellmut. I'd heard news reports along these lines before but was not aware of the extent.

There are those in high places who truly believe that times have changed; that the time for religious tolerance and separation has past if it ever was anything but the product of liberal wickedness and conspiracy. So I'm not surprised at all that this kind of thing is going on unchecked.

There has also long been a bias in the military toward evangelical thinking as parallels exist between traditions of military service and evangelical communities.

I can think of few things more frightening than the most powerful military in the history of the world sanguine with religious ferver.

Blogger Cynthia E. Bagley said...

I was in the U.S. Navy and we were not subjected to what you are writing about. I find it horrible and tragic. It should not be allowed.

Anonymous Gabriel Hess said...

Hey Hellmut! It would seem I stumbled across your blog while wandering through the bloggernacle!

One question....are these chaplains that are doing this, or just officers in general? In my opinion, if it's just standard officers and not chaplains that are doing this, than the chaplains have the duty to intervene. After all, it is their duty to cope with, and provide for, a pluralistic religious environment and ensure that all armed servicemembers enjoy the right of freedom of religion. If chaplains are participating (which I find likely, in the case of evangelicals), then Iraq is not the only quagmire the military has gotten itself into.

Also, one thing you did not mention was the mandatory-meeting prayer offered by chaplains. A handful of evangelicals are up in arms about a policy which prevents chaplains from saying sectarian prayers at mandatory, potentially mult-faith meetings. The actual chaplain organizations, and chaplains themselves, however, fully support this policy. The article was in the Washington Post about a month ago (my parents sent it to me). It's titled "Unneeded and Divisive: Let us pray that Congress stops meddling with military chaplains".

Lastly, I just watched the trailer for an interesting looking documentary called "Jesus Camp". It's about some of the more gung-ho evangelical camps that train kids from as early as age 6 to be "disciples of Jesus" and leaders in their community. It claims to be produced from a purely investigative perspective, with no bias, spin, or agenda.

Hope all's well back home!


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