Saturday, November 11, 2006

The uniform is NOT a religious tool

In my day job, I have nearly fallen asleep at some events I was covering, but have never been so offended by one. Until now.

The offending event? A Veteran's Day dinner.

Going into it, I knew it was being sponsored by a local church, but that didn't concern me too much since it was public, free, and at a public school.

For the most part, the speakers who made religious references did so in ways that were at least in context to their stories. I've never had a problem with people believing their faith played some role in their survival in battle, even if I think their training and teamwork (and a little luck) was actually the cause. Nor did I bridle at the prayers the minister gave; that, after all, is his job. But I did find the keynote speaker extremely offensive.

According to the oath of office every military person swears upon enlistment, the job is to "protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic." Tell me, where in that phrase do you find any reference to the Bible or any other religious text?

Apparently, the event's keynote speaker did, somewhere other than among the "enemies" of the Constitution. Correctly noting that the event's purpose was to give veterans, cops, firefighters, and others words of encouragement, hope and thanks for their bravery, he went off the deep end by blatantly proclaiming "the only message of encouragement and hope" is that of salvation through Jeebus.

Veterans Day is about recognizing bravery and sacrifice in service to our country. I don't give a damn what someone believes privately, but if they're publicly representing the nation -- and anyone wearing an Armed Forces uniform speaking at an event is -- they'd better NOT be promoting any form of religion. He was, arrogantly assuming he had the right to preach one narrow religious viewpoint to a school gymnasium full of people celebrating the millions who have served. Many of those present were probably not Xian, and that's definitely true of many of the people who put their lives in danger for their fellow Americans.

As far as I'm concerned, his assertion that he serves and obeys the Xian god is in serious conflict with his oath to serve the United States. What if we elect a non-Xian president (we've had several Deists, people whom the Xian right would never consider Xian)? What if the military had to fight against an ostensibly Xian country or to suppress a fundamentalist uprising in ours? By proselytizing while in uniform, he dishonors the service of people like my father (Army in 'Nam) and grandfather (Army in WW2) who are essentially secular, anyone who is Jewish, Muslim, Pagan or any other religion, and anyone who is atheist.

That's especially true because he says his "mission" is to spread the Xian doctrine ... one many of us see as anathema to the principles of freedom (all Xians are "servants," per the Bible, and servants are by definition not free), peace (Jesus pledged to bring a sword), civil order (his followers were expected to desert their families), and even the principle of military obedience to civilian leadership (kings in Biblical days led by force, not popular will). The existence of that kind of fanaticism in our armed forces reminds me all too easily of the lunatics in Dr. Strangelove and al Qaeda. It is the kind of attitude that provokes crusades (jihads) and witch hunts, and leaves little room for negotiation or compromise -- one the future can do without.



Blogger Stardust said...

Jay - I experienced this same thing at my nephew's swearing in ceremony when he graduated from the police academy back in June. There were TWO pastors there and then the class president gave a very religious talk -- prayers were held, etc. This PUBLIC ceremony that was held on a public university campus, installing PUBLIC service employees of the STATE of Indiana made me feel as if I were attending a worship service for Jeebus and gawd than an installation of public officers. The dean of the criminal justice department of the university happened to sit in the seat right next to my husband. My husband, being the big mouth he is, turned to her and said "whatever happened to separation of church and state?" and she said "I dont have anything to do with this ceremony" and she promptly got up and left before he could say any more.

11/12/2006 2:42 PM  
Blogger Jay Denari said...

Hi, Stardust,

After writing that, I went looking for DOD policy on the issue. I couldn't find one that's clearly on topic, but the following was part of this year's policy regarding the elections:


As far as I'm concerned, blatant promotion of a religion IS a "partisan cause or issue," and enlisted military folk (incl. officers) should be considered as "acting in their official capacity" whenever in uniform. It's reasonable to assume if the person chose to put on the uniform for an event, it's BECAUSE wearing it would reflect on the military &/or that person's role within it. I know the military code specifically regulates the conduct of some activities while in uniform because they'd negatively impact the public perception of the armed forces; I just wish I could cite it directly.

The same should be true of cops; after all, when was the last time you saw an off-duty cop in uniform (except when s/he's en route to/from work)?

11/13/2006 11:32 PM  

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