The U.S. Senate has courageously just stood up to the Christian-supremacist bullies in the House of Representatives. Oh yes, the Senate has just completely ripped away from their religiously bigoted, House counterparts a would-be treasured bible-thumping bonanza of immeasurable, unconstitutional proselytization. This erstwhile prize of legislative plunder had been specifically designed by these Congressmen and Congresswomen from the House, in nefarious collaboration with their legions of fundamentalist Christian parachurch allies, to be embedded deep within the confines of the 2015 Pentagon authorization/funding act.
Fortunately, the plan by these Christian crusader Members of the House failed. Please let me briefly explain, my friends.
For nearly a decade we at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) have fought night and day against the noxious trespasses of the Religious Right upon the rights of the brave men and women in our United States armed services. It’s been a bruising fight, no doubt, one filled with angry words, violent threats, as well as lies, damned lies, and hideous distortions lifted straight from the era of McCarthyism. Many of the vicious battles MRFF has engaged in have involved commanding officers, senior NCOs and chaplains operating on the assumption that it is their uncontestable and absolute right, if not their divine duty pursuant to The Great Commission (see Mark 16:15 or Matthew 28:19), to relentlessly proselytize the un-churched (or those who aren’t “the right type of Christian”) and use their superior military rank as a bully pulpit from which to hammer in the “Good News.” As if the unique set of pressures our servicemembers undergo isn’t enough, these fundamentalist Christian monsters have piled insult upon injury, mercilessly forcing their weaponized version of the Gospel of Jesus Christ upon their helpless military subordinates while hypocritically claiming to do so under the banner of “religious freedom.” However, those of us who’ve been fiercely combating this ongoing war of attrition waged by Christian extremists and triumphalists against the U.S. Constitution have received a truly surprising holiday gift of sorts.
It turns out that sometimes miracles DO happen, and not just on 34th Street but on Capitol Hill, too.
In what we can only describe as an amazing early holiday present for servicemembers, Constitutional loyalists, and those who value the separation of Church and State, an obscure, but extremely detrimental amendment to the House-passed H.R. 4435 version of the bill “miraculously” disappeared from the final version of the Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (FY2015 NDAA). If the House had its way, next year’s Federal roadmap for America’s armed forces would have included the following painfully ugly provision designated as “Section 525” in the Hoped-for House version:
“…if called upon to lead a prayer outside of a religious service, a military chaplain may close the prayer according to the traditions, expressions and religious exercises of the endorsing faith group.”
One needn’t rack one’s brains to read between the lines and see where such a course may lead. For those of you imagining a chaplain shouting “Takbir!” with Quran in hand followed by nervous soldiers chanting “Allah Akbar,” think again. No doubt about it, Section 525 would have amounted to a precious, blank check for every wannabe missionary comprising the sectarian Dominionist/fundamentalist Christian fifth column in the U.S. military. Hordes of these religious predators unfortunately can be found lurking throughout the ranks of the military chaplaincy. In fact, it’s an open secret that the military chaplaincy hardly matches the diverse cross-section of faith (and non-faith) groups represented in our armed forces. Instead the chaplaincy has been transformed largely into a clearing-house for evangelizing zealous zombies. For these chaplains, the military isn’t a place for Constitutionally mandated pluralism, religious respect and mutual tolerance. On the contrary, these missionizing maniacs see their government-paid chaplaincies as an inexhaustibly fruitful proselytizing venue and unlimited, open season “mission field.” Thus, a chaplain would be permitted to end all MANDATORY military gatherings with such standard patriarchal, monotheistic benedictions as “Thank you Father God for your blessings upon us in Jesus’ name, amen.” Or any other seething sectarian permutations of the same such as “I pray that our troops assembled here today come to understand that they must utterly surrender themselves to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ before they die or ELSE.” Cue the “burning in hell for all eternity” music.
As I have said many times in many places for many years, in the U.S. armed forces you may have mandatory formations and you may have religious formations but you CANNOT have mandatory, religious formations.
Luckily for us, the United States Senate took the side of the U.S. Constitution, its construing Federal and state case law in conjunction with DoD directives, instructions and regulations. Further, the Senate obviously and carefully considered U.S. national security as well as the compelling governmental interest in optimizing the unit cohesion, mission readiness, good order, morale, and discipline of our valued armed forces members.
In the end, it turned out that not only could the Lame Duck Senate fly, but upon taking wing it was able – just barely – to avoid the evangelical, fundamentalist Christian buckshot being fired in its direction.
And for that proud and rare occasion, we should all be truly thankful.