Saturday, February 11, 2006

God in the U.S. Military

You may remember the hullabaloo about the Air Force having problems with radical religious clerics of the fundamentalist type. There were accusations of oppressing those who had other religions or none, and all this led to new guidelines last August, guidelines which warned about prayers at public events and pointed out that expressions of faith by superiors may be interpreted as official statements by their subordinates.

So far so good. Then James Dobson, a radical religious cleric, got going with his Focus on the Family organization, and look what happened:

But evangelical groups, such as the Colorado-based Focus on the Family, saw the guidelines as overly restrictive. They launched a nationwide petition drive, sounded alarms on Christian radio stations, and deluged the White House and Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne's office with e-mails calling the guidelines an infringement of the Constitution's guarantees of free speech and free exercise of religion.

Seventy-two members of Congress also signed a letter to President Bush criticizing the guidelines and urging him to issue an executive order guaranteeing the right of military chaplains to pray "in Jesus' name" rather than being forced to offer nonsectarian prayers at public ceremonies.

The revised guidelines are considerably shorter than the original, filling one page instead of four. They place more emphasis on the Constitution's free exercise clause, which is mentioned four times, than on its prohibition on any government establishment of religion, which is mentioned twice.

It sounds like the radical clerics won this one.