Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Freedom of Religion, Except for Chaplains?

The discontent we see today about religion in public life is aided by the use of "separation of church and state" to summarize the Religion Clauses of our Constitution's First Amendment. One could assume that the Founders who wrote the Bill of Rights (from which the First Amendment comes) understood what its meaning is. As soon as the first session of Congress met they authorized the position and pay for Chaplains. They also opened their first session with a prayer (for 3 hours!). This blog is peppered with actions of the Founding Fathers that might be called unconstitutional today. My personal belief is that they understood the Constitution better than some do today.

But today, our military chaplains are being told they can NOT pray in Jesus' name. In fact, even some of the U.S. military manuals for chaplains, which contain many suggested prayers, mention no prayers that end with, "In Jesus' Name." Chaplains are being punished for ignoring the prohibition. Some are forced to choose between their faith and their career.

So far the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation are working to ban such prayers from the chaplains' practice. (Notice that the name of that second organization incorporates the "separation of church and state" phrase.)

So is the objection to the word "Jesus" in prayers? Partly. But one of those organizations is threatening the United States Naval Academy with a suit if they do not abandon their 160-year tradition of a voluntary grace (prayer) before meals.

How have we forgotten the actual words (and meaning!) of the First Amendment? How have we forgotten there are TWO religion clauses? One is the Establishment Clause, which is improperly replaced with separation of church and state. But the other is the Free Exercise Clause, which is surely no less important.

The First Amendment specifies that Congress shall not make a law that either:
- establishes a national religion
- prohibits the free exercise of religion

So considering that, what is the problem with a chaplain praying in the manner his/her religion uses? What is wrong with allowing cadets to say grace voluntarily before a meal?

A few groups have been created to help fight such actions, but they are hard-pressed to fight organizations as large as the ACLU. One such is listed below. They are engaged in the particular actions above:

American Center for Law & Justice
P.O. Box 90555
Washington, DC 20090-0555

Their news on the Air Force Academy is here

1 comment:

Ron Russell said...

Very detailed post, I was a big fan of Tony Snow also and hated to see him leave us. Men like him can never be replaced. Yes the firt amendment has been twisted completely out-of-shape, by such groups as the ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center and others. The writer of the Constitution only wanted to prevent the establishment of a state religion. We need more strict constructionist judges in the federal court system---most these days seem to legislate from the bench. Drop by and visit me at Penny Patch sometime.