On Monday, August 9th, I watched the 334th Brigade Combat Team have their final send-off ceremony before they head to Afghanistan in Des Moines, Iowa. The ceremony was like most ceremonies, lots of big wigs were there; Gov. Culver, Senators Grassley and Harkin, Congressmen Boswell and many others. They each went on about how proud they were of our servicemen and applauded their commitment. Things were going well until something happened. The Iowa National Guard Chaplain took the floor for invocation. The auditorium fell hushed, everyone stood (including the soldiers who had to be there at attention) and bowed their heads as they listened to the chaplains invocation and how his deity was being called upon to keep the soldiers safe and bless each of them.
Well, almost all heads bowed.
I got to thinking about my time in the service both at home and over seas and how throughout all of the military get-togethers that I’ve attended have always had this same feature built into them. They always had a chaplain on hand, they are almost always Christian, they are almost always required either tacitly or directly that all troops shall attend and be attentive to the specific religious speakings being given.
In basic training if you do not attend church you are typically punished or given extra duty during services. Of course, this is not done maliciously nor outwardly ruthlessly to punish those that are not religious, but the fact remains – several young soldiers, myself included, attended church service in favor of doing additional physical training or cleaning the toilets with toothbrushes.
When we went through send of ceremony after ceremony, each with a different chaplain we found ourselves held at attention while some kind of prayer was said over our unit and the exploits we had done or were about to undertake.
When we were deployeed, if any soldier has any kind of personal issue secular or religious the only person they could turn to was a religious leader that made no secret of their religiosity and though trained to be as secular as possible, this is quite different when you go to the Chapel to see the Chaplain whose rank is a Christian Cross.
All throughout the military you will find that the separation of church and state is a forgone idea. Mandatory prayers for all those in uniform regardless of faith or lack there of. This violates a key part of our country’s Constitutional 1st Amendment in several ways.
First, the military holds religiosity above non-religiosity in practice and in deed by restricting counselor-ship and affording officership to those that have graduated seminary to be a chaplain.
Second, by requiring through military discipline the presence of all military personnel while prayer services are held over a congregation of troops be it a formation or a mess hall.
Third, by holding Christianity above other religions in that prayer services are universally afforded by an officer-Chaplain for Christianity and a vast minority or non existence for other less pervasive religions.
Fourth, by failing to provide alternatives that hold the same standing in the military to religiously affiliated counselors and personal advisors.
These are only but a few ways that our service men and women are being systematically denied their 1st amendment rights to not have a government organization dictate to them what is best when it comes to religion.
So the next time you’re at a send off ceremony, or watch a President get inaugurated or wish to attend a government rally just think how upset you would be were you a Helenic believer and the wrath Zeus would have for these paltry officials, or if you were awaiting Thor to smite down those who deem Christianity the “law and religion of the land and our armed forces”. Or what of Allah, Jehovah, Flying Spaghetti Monsters, or Krishna?
These men and women in uniform put their lives on the lines. Let us not cheapen them by destroying what our country stands for to make a few Christians feel better about it.