Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Hill, Op-Ed: The Fight for Freedom at Home

From today's edition of The Hill (www.thehill.com)

http://www.thehill.com/thehill/export/TheHill/Comment/OpEd/051606_mikey.html

The fight for freedom at home

By Mikey Weinstein

My battle against the Air Force began two years ago when I learned that my sons, the eldest an Air Force Academy graduate and the other a cadet at the Academy, were subjected to taunts and derision because of their Jewish faith and that each had faced proselytizing both from their peers and superiors. My daughter-in-law, a graduate of the Air Force Academy and a practicing non-evangelical Christian, also found herself subjected to evangelizing.

The matter was personal, but it was very clear that it was not just my sons and daughter-in-law whose constitutional rights were being violated. Air Force personnel - non-evangelical Christians, those of minority faiths and those who chose not to worship at all - were experiencing illegal proselytizing and evangelizing.

After reaching out to Air Force leadership and numerous members of Congress without success, my battle manifested itself into a federal lawsuit, and most recently the creation of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. It’s no longer just the Air Force I’ve focused my attention on - it’s the entirety of our nation’s armed forces.

As hard as my supporters and I have been pushing for change, the Air Force and other branches of the military have been pushing back. They have willingly succumbed to the pressure of the religious right by issuing guidelines on religion that allow military chaplains to pray in Jesus’ name at all mandatory military formations, fail to protect military personnel and blatantly violate the Constitution.

Now they’ve gone one step further - military officers are using their government e-mail accounts to help their likeminded brethren win elected office. Maj. Gen. Jack J. Catton Jr., a two-star general at Langley Air Force Base, sent an e-mail last week from his Air Force account, asking other military men to support a recently retired general, Bentley Rayburn, for Congress. "We are certainly in need of Christian men with integrity and military experience in Congress," Catton wrote.

What we are in need of is military leaders and elected officials who will uphold the Constitution. This is not an issue of who is on the left or right of the political spectrum; rather, it is a constitutional right-or-wrong issue.

Just last week, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee added language to a Pentagon spending bill that allows military chaplains to pray completely without regard for the religious beliefs of military personnel, including at mandatory military formations. In an effort to undo the damage this provision would cause, Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) introduced an amendment that would have required military chaplains to demonstrate "sensitivity, respect and tolerance" for the beliefs of those to whom they minister.

The amendment was voted down, 31-26.

Since when is Congress against sensitivity, respect and tolerance for all Americans?
Our nation’s Founding Fathers drew a line for us when they wrote the Constitution. On one side stood religion, on the other side the secular state. Members of Congress, and all those who serve in government institutions, such as our nation’s armed forces, hold the great responsibility of ensuring this line is not blurred.

Perhaps our elected officials have forgotten that their ultimate goal is to uphold the Constitution, and perhaps military leaders need to be reminded that, while they are entitled to their religious beliefs, once they don a military uniform their first and foremost obligation is to serve their country, not their church.

It has been disappointing to watch men and women elected to serve our country fight against freedom of religion, the cornerstone of our Bill of Rights, and even more disheartening to see those who defend our nation forced to defend themselves against illegal proselytizing by their superiors.

The battle is far from over. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation and its diverse board of accomplished Americans with expertise in military relations, law, communications, political science and religion remain committed to ensuring that the constitutional guarantee of the separation of church and state is enforced throughout all branches of the military.

We will continue to push our government and our military leadership to instill the right values in our men and women in uniform. These soldiers are taking brave steps to ensure freedom around the world. We must take brave steps to maintain that freedom at home.

Weinstein, a former Reagan White House counsel, is the president and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation ( www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org ).

4 Comments:

Blogger Sky said...

Thank you for such a wonderful and insightful website. We Neo-Pagans are having many of the same issues in the military.

Please feel free to research archives at:

www.milpagan.org

and I have a blog about the discrimination being faced by Roberta Stewart in getting a religious symbol on her husband's VA provided headstone. Her husband Patrick died in Iraq for our freedom, and yet he is allowed none.

http://paganheadstone.blogspot.com/

9:23 AM  
Blogger Sky said...

What about Katcoff V Marsh? wouldn't this current round of evangelical mismash be shut down by Katcoff V Marsh?

Quote: "In Katcoff v. Marsh (1985), the Second Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the government’s practice of hiring military chaplains did not violate the First Amendment’s ban on religious establishments because of the need to support military personnel in the free exercise of their religion. The court indicated that the military’s religious program should be "neutral," should limit competition among religious groups, and should leave the practice of religion solely to the individual soldier, "who is free to worship or not as he chooses, without fear of any discipline or stigma."

-sky

9:35 AM  
Blogger Sky said...

DA-PAM 27-50-312, November 1998 (The Army Lawyer) is available online. It is a good resource about military religion cases, including Katcoff V Marsh.

http://www.maaf.info/downloads/armylawyernov98religionissues.pdf

9:48 AM  
Blogger Caseymarc4 said...

Sky,
Thank you for the thoughtful comments and legal recommendations. I will pass them on to my dad to make sure we have that base covered. Stay tuned for more info and spread the word about the book release coming in July. It is an amazing piece of work!

8:26 AM  

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