CONGRESSIONAL REPUBLICANS TWICE REJECT MILITARY BUDGET AMENDMENT TO PROVIDE CHAPLAIN SUPPORT FOR NON-RELIGIOUS SERVICEMEMBERS
In June, the House Armed Services Committee and the US House of Representatives both rejected efforts to provide military chaplain support for non-religious military servicemembers in its debate and passage of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act.
According to the Military Leadership Diversity Commission, 23% of US military members identify as atheist or non-theistic. Yet all US military chaplains have to be associated with a particular religious sect in order to qualify as chaplains. Atheists and nontheists do not have representation in the military chaplaincy.
On the other end of the spectrum, the same source identified above, Christian Evangelicals make up almost 2/3 of the Chaplain Corps across all of the military branches. Yet less than 20% of military servicemembers consider themselves as Christian Evangelicals.
Aside from the obvious issue of Congress and the US military clearly violating both Article VI, paragraph 3 and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment in its establishment of a religious requirement for chaplains, it would also seem obvious that if chaplains provide important support to members of their own faith in the military, then the 23% of servicemembers that profess no religious beliefs are being denied such support by not having their own chaplains. With these statistics, an amendment to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act was made last month during deliberations in the House Armed Services Committee, chaired by local Congressman “Buck” McKeon (R-CA25CD), to allow humanist, ethical culturist, or atheist chaplains be accepted to the military chaplaincy program.
The amendment was overwhelmingly voted down by the majority Republicans on the Committee. Several of those Representatives mocked and ridiculed the amendment as well as the nontheistic, claiming that atheist chaplains would be incapable of offering solace and compassion to servicemembers because they “don’t believe [in] anything”.
Despite the defeat, the amendment was raised again as the bill was being considered on the House floor as H. Amdt. 169, introduced by Colorado Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO2CD). Again, Congressional Republicans mocked and ridiculed the amendment and overwhelmingly voted against it before passing the final Defense budget bill in mid-June.
10 JULY UPDATE: In addition to the rejection of the above amendment, it appears that HASC Chair Rep. McKeon clandestinely accepted an amendment to the NDAA bill from Rep. John Fleming of Lousiana (R-LA4CD) to actually prohibit military leaders from restraining or limiting religious proselytization by US servicemembers or their chaplains in any way! This amendment was buried and combined by Chairman McKeon with 19 other amendments and introduced as H. Amdt. 146, passed on the floor of the House by voice vote. (This insertion would have gone unnoticed if Rep. Fleming had not held a public rally on 9 July to boast about his successful efforts in inserting his amendment into the bill to turn the US military into a theocratic institution.)
This amendment has been included in both the House and Senate versions of the NDAA bill, despite President Obama's objections as to its constitutionality. It is likely to be included in the final version passed by Congress if constituents do not contact their representatives to speak out about this blatant abuse of religious privileging in our military.
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Friday, June 14, 2013
June 17 marks the 50th anniversary of an important Supreme Court ruling called Abington Township School District v. Schempp. In this decision, the high court struck down mandatory, coercive and school-sponsored prayer and Bible reading in America ’s public schools.
Even after five decades, this ruling remains the subject of many myths. Here, courtesy of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, are the facts about this decision:
Myth: The Supreme Court has banned all forms of religious activity in public schools.
Truth: The Supreme Court struck down only government-mandated prayer and Bible reading in public schools. In many states, participation in these religious activities was for all practical purposes compulsory. Truly voluntary devotions by students have always been legal. Many secondary public schools also have student-run religious clubs that meet during non-instructional time. This arrangement is legal because these clubs are voluntary, and no one is compelled to take part.
Myth: Only atheists oppose school prayer.
Truth: Many devout Christians, Jews, Hindus, etc., oppose school-sponsored prayer because it violates freedom of conscience. During the debate over school prayer amendments in the 1960s, Southern Baptists led the opposition, arguing that imposing government-mandated prayer on youngsters infringed on parental rights. (Southern Baptists switched sides on the issue institutionally only after fundamentalists took control of the denomination. Many individual Baptists still oppose official school prayer.)
Myth: Public schools can’t teach about religion even in an objective manner.
Truth: The school prayer rulings did not affect objective instruction about religion. In fact, the Supreme Court made it clear in the Schempp ruling that even-handed academic instruction about religion in classes dealing with history, art, literature, etc. is perfectly legal. Justice Tom Clark, who wrote the opinion, went out of his way to make this clear.
Myth: No one objected to school prayer prior to the 1960s.
Truth: School-sponsored religious exercises have been controversial as long as there have been public schools. In the mid-19th century, Roman Catholics spoke out against the Protestant character of prayer and Bible reading in public schools. Lawsuits were filed in many state courts. In one notable case, the Ohio Supreme Court in 1870 ruled that public education officials in Cincinnati had the right to remove devotional Bible reading from public schools.
Myth: Most public schools sponsored prayer until the Supreme Court struck it down.
Truth: Many states had no laws on the subject of prayer and Bible reading in public schools. In some states, courts had ruled mandatory prayer and Bible reading unconstitutional. Although official prayer and Bible reading were common in many Eastern and Southern states, these practices were less common in Midwestern and Western states.
Myth: A generic prayer could be composed that most people would find acceptable.
Truth: The state of New York tried this in the late 1950s. The so-called “Regent’s Prayer” was drafted by bureaucrats and offended many believers and non-believers. Since then, religious diversity in America has expanded even more. There is no way a generic prayer could be composed that would satisfy Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. Such a prayer would also offend atheists, humanists and other non-believers.
Myth: Americans support prayer in schools.
Truth: Polls show support for the right of children to pray in school voluntarily – the situation that exists now. When polls go more in depth and ask people if they support coercive or mandatory forms of religious worship in public schools, support drops sharply. Parents realize that the prayer said might conflict with their beliefs and usurp parental rights.
The Supreme Court made the right call 50 years ago. Prayer and religious worship must be voluntarily chosen to be meaningful. No government-sponsored institution should have the right to compel children to pray or read religious texts. (Christians should ask themselves how they would feel if their children were forced to recite non-Christian prayers in school.) Far from infringing on freedom, the Schempp decision actively protects it. On June 17, we should celebrate this important ruling and the values it represents.