Thursday, August 31, 2006

Air Force, Navy, Army Times: Christianity in Combat

Christianity in combat
Religious symbols have no place on troops’ uniforms

By Mikey Weinstein

For many of us, hearing the term "crusader" conjures up memories of grade-school history classes filled with long lectures about hordes of armored Christian soldiers hacking their way across Europe and the Middle East to recapture Jerusalem.

The crusaders were holy warriors fighting in the name of the Roman Catholic Church and Jesus. Their mission was no secret; they were embroiled in a sectarian religious war to militarily enforce adherence to their biblical worldview.

Their leaders pushed, coerced and pressured them to fight on religious grounds. Their battlegrounds were awash in blood.

As Americans, this should be something we never fear, as our founding fathers knew the critical importance of keeping religion and government separate. Most would find it unfathomable to think of modern-day crusaders existing within our armed forces - of our men and women wearing uniforms decorated with religious symbols.

However, as I recently discovered, crusaders do exist - and they’re serving in the 523rd Fighter Squadron of our Air Force. The airmen of 523rd Fighter Squadron, based at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., not only have invoked the term "Crusaders" to describe their unit, they use blatantly sectarian religious symbolism on the patches they affix to their uniforms and the official logo of their unit.

As we continue to engage in a war on terrorism against religious fundamentalists, we must take a moment to consider the sick irony of allowing Air Force combat personnel to dress in clothes displaying religious emblems. Our men and women are fighting ruthless terrorist organizations that exploit religion as a means to cause mass devastation and death. It is the job of our military to end this fundamentalism, remove the terrorists and bring safety, democracy and freedom to these areas - not to spread Christianity or represent America as a Christian nation.

Our military personnel are not crusaders. They are honorable and noble defenders of our constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms. The "Crusaders" patch prominently features a large cross - an unmistakable emblem of Christianity - as well as other accouterments of the historically dressed crusaders: a broadsword and armored helmet.

There is no hidden meaning here, no effort to disguise the reference to Christian religion. This Air Force F-16 combat squadron has taken the horrifying step of disregarding the Constitution, which, as servicemen and women, they should proudly uphold under the oath they all took to do so.

Christian, Jew, Muslim, agnostic and atheist alike should agree: There is no place for this display of religiosity within our armed forces. The uniforms of our military personnel should not be showcases for religious imagery, particularly when that imagery directly boasts of one of the most devastating examples of human bloodshed in recorded history.

Take a look at the Air Force handbook - you can find it online at I assure you that nowhere in the Air Force mission statement does it say anything about fighting a crusade for religious freedom. What it does say is this: "The mission of the U.S. Air Force is to deliver sovereign options for the defense of the United States and its global interests - to fly and fight in the air, space and cyberspace."

Even the ubiquitous and time-honored "Little Blue Book" of Air Force core values established in 1947 - and to which guiding principles on religion were specifically added in 1997 to stop "ethical corrosion" - clearly states: "Military professionals must remember that religious choice is a matter of individual conscience. Professionals, and especially commanders, must not take it upon themselves to change or coercively influence the religious views of subordinates."

The men and women who choose to serve in our military should be able to do so without the fear of being pressured to lead a religious crusade, without fear of being coercively evangelized and without fear of having to wear the symbol of another’s faith.

Today’s U.S. military is the most technologically lethal organization ever created. We, as Americans, should never fear that religion will overtake this mighty military force.
There is no denying that religion is pouring into our government institutions - including our armed forces - at a rapid pace. It is our responsibility to stand up and raise our voices against these continued egregious violations of our Constitution.

Our Constitution guarantees us the right to pray freely and also prevents our government from imposing religion upon us. We must express our outrage to military and government leadership, and we must fight to protect the rights, including the right to worship - or not - our God, in whatever manner we choose.

The writer, an Air Force Academy graduate and former White House counsel under President Reagan, is president and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.


Blogger Andrew said...

Mr. Weinstein,

After just reading your article in the 04SEP06 edition of Navy Times I felt compelled to make a comment. Let me begin by saying I am a US Army CPT serving in Iraq. First of all your conception of the Crusades is pure 21st century political correctness. The Crusades was a strategic move to offset the Muslim hordes rampaging through Spain and France and slowly eating away the West's baulwark, the Byzantine Empire. In the centuries following, the Pope's wisdom would be proven by the countless millions of Eastern Eurpoean Christians slaughtered by Ottomon Turk Muslims. Although thier personal behavior was by today's standards inexcuseable, the Crusaders strategic goals were essentially defensive in nature and had the goal of recovering lands that a short two centuries prior were Christian. Secondly, you, being an educated man, must know that the establishment clause only prevents Congress proclaiming and then funding a state church like the UK with the Church of England. When Christmas rolls around I will tell my Arab interpreters (while I'm in uniform) "Merry Christmas!". I'm quite certain that they won't quake in their shoes with outrage.
What you're in fact doing is imposing your ideology (Political Correctness) on symbols and ideals that have provided incalculable comfort to the proceding generations of American servicemen. I can assure that I'm not proselytizing the Muslims I work with but they know what I believe and show respect for it. It would be kind of you to do the same.

Sinecrely, CPT Andrew E. Rolwes

3:52 AM  
Blogger Jack said...

After just finding out about the 523rd FS via an article in the Air Force Times I felt compelled to make a comment. Let me begin by saying that I am a US Air Force Technical Sergeant that has served in a lot of places that most Americans can't pronounce, much less have heard of.

I think you're dead on. In fact, I am probably a bit more extreme than you as I believe that the US military should not have chaplains and the like.

Regardless, keep up the work. I saw this month that the USAFA finally has a "freethinker" extracurricular activities group. I can't help but think that you have a good deal of credit for this evolution.

11:01 PM  
Blogger Caseymarc4 said...

Thanks for the kind words and thoughts. We will keep up the fight! Be sure to subscribe to the newsletter if you want to keep up to date on our goings on!


11:48 AM  

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