Religion and the Military: Not a Good Mix

“That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time.” -2nd paragraph, Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, composed by Thomas Jefferson in 1777, enacted into Virginia law on January 16, 1786

Army sandwich board at a Phoenix, Arizona recruiting station (Photo: The Army Times)

Army sandwich board at a Phoenix, Arizona recruiting station (Photo: The Army Times)

Religion and the military simply do not mix. But we are witnessing a sickening trend. There are religious groups actively seeking to “convert” people in the United States military, and they are making a full-court press, especially in the United States Air Force.

Here is just one example.

A member of the Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada, was allegedly barred from reenlisting in the Air Force after omitting the phrase “so help me God” from his contract, according to an American Humanist Association letter sent to United States Air Force officials.

According to the American Humanist Association, the airman was “told by his superiors that he must swear to God or leave the Air Force.” This incident, however, is not about someone who refuses to serve in the military because of the oath; it is about someone who wants to serve in the military, who has in fact already served his country in uniform, but who is being prohibited from continuing to do so because of the oath.

It was the latest religious controversy in the heavily United States “Christian” Air Force. The oath was written into law in 1956 and, like the Pledge of Allegiance, did not originally include any reference to God. The final sentence came into the text in 1962, just eight years after “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance.

Even then, however, it was not an absolute requirement in the Air Force:Official policy had stated that “Airmen may omit the words ‘so help me God,’ if desired for personal reasons.” But the lenient policy was updated and eliminated in 2013, leading to the most recent standoff.

The Air Force reversed course recently and will be updating the instructions for both enlisted and commissioned Airmen to reflect these changes. “We are making the appropriate adjustments to ensure our Airmen’s rights are protected,”Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said. “Airmen who choose to omit the words ‘So help me God’ from enlistment and officer appointment oaths may do so,” a spokesperson for the Air Force said.  The repeated fights over the Air Force oath highlight the troubled relationship between faith groups and military service.

Then there is the Air Force Academy, another hot-bed of religious controversy. The academy also announced that it will now be optional for cadets to recite “so help me God” at the end of its honor oath. The academy made the change in response to a complaint from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which advocates for the separation of church and state in the military.

“Here at the academy, we work to build a culture of dignity and respect, and that respect includes the ability of our cadets, airmen and civilian airmen to freely practice and exercise their religious preference – or not,” academy Superintendent Lieutenant General Michelle Johnson said. “So, in the spirit of respect, cadets may or may not choose to finish the honor oath with ‘so help me God.’ ”

But was the change enough? Mikey Weinstein did not think so.

“The Air Force Academy took the cowardly route,” Weinstein said after the announcement. “From our perspective, it still creates a tremendous amount of unconstitutional turmoil … for anyone who is a religious objector.”

Weinstein pledged to bring a lawsuit against the academy if the religious language was not dropped entirely from the oath.

The academy’s honor oath reads: “We will not lie, steal or cheat nor tolerate among us anyone who does. Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and live honorably, so help me God.”

Weinstein said in an interview that the oath’s final four words were an illegal violation of Article VI of the Constitution, which states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” “You cannot have anyone swear an oath to a supreme being to take a position in the federal government. What we’re talking about is civil rights,” Weinstein said.

Among the options the academy discussed were: making no change to the oath, making the “so help me God” portion optional, or striking the entire oath.

But Weinstein said nothing short of eliminating the “so help me God” language from the oath was acceptable. Making it optional would not be good enough, he said, because airmen who chose not to say it would feel pressure. “It exacts an unconstitutional toll on religious objectors. Everyone knows you’re not playing for the right team,” Weinstein said.

But if the language was struck from the oath, he said he would not object to cadets choosing to say it on their own. “I’m completely and totally fine with them adding it if they choose,” Weinstein said. “They can swear so help me God, so help me Allah, so help me Spider-Man. But when you have it there, that is a noxious violation of separation of church and state.”

And just who is Mikey Weinstein, you ask?

Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein graduated from the academy in 1977, and spent ten years in the Air Force as a judge advocate general, and more than three years as legal counsel for the Reagan administration. His two sons, son-in-law, and daughter-in-law also graduated from the academy. Weinstein, who is Jewish, said his younger son experienced unspeakable anti-Semitic prejudice, including being called “f_ _king Jews” and being told that they were ultimately complicit in and responsible for the execution of Jesus Christ, while attending the academy in 2004, after the Mel Gibson directed film, The Passion of the Christ was released. He said cadets were being pressured to see the movie. Weinstein decided something needed to be done about that. Thus was born the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, founded by Weinstein.

Since then Weinstein and his foundation have helped a huge number of servicemen who have experienced religious discrimination of one sort or another within the United States military, a branch of the United States government. For his efforts, Weinstein receives almost on a daily basis a barrage of hate mail and threats. Typical of the hate mail that Weinstein receives is this piece of crap from a so-called religious person who claims to believe in the Prince of Peace. But I ask you, does this sound like a message of which Jesus, a Jew himself, would have approved?

Subject: The Number One Enemy of the United States of America

“Mr. Mikey Weinstein you are the Number One Enemy of America. You don’t deserve American citizenship. You deserve no safety nor sanctuary. You should be hunted down like an animal with rabies. You are our country’s foremost enemy. Along with your Jesus-hating organization MRFF. You take no Christian prisoners Mr. Weinstein? Why should you receive any mercy? It makes sense that you have other American traitors as fellow travelers of deceit. Joseph Wilson is such a traitor. Mike Farrell is also such a traitor. Lawrence Wilkerson is a snake who betrays even his own Republicans. Edward Asner is a red godless communist like you are. [please see note at end of my article] But you are the slimebag responsible for it all. Your evil grows substantial. The father of lies is your benefactor. Lucifer leads you in your rebellion against Christ in our military. All of us with a clean heart and soul for the Son of Man see this. His Grace reveals your treachery. We pray to the Son that your days be few and your suffering be unbearable. That you live only so long as to see your children and wife despoiled. Ravaged and ruined before your eyes. We pray to Him that your tears be unending. Let your tears be of acid so as to burn your jew [sic] face of darkness threw [sic] to the bone.”

Well done, Christian bigot. This tirade and others from ostensibly loving Christians, including wishing this Jewish man and his family a “Happy Holocaust Day,” go with the territory for Weinstein.

Recently, one of the named targets in the tirade above – Distinguished Visiting Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William and Mary, chief of staff to former United States Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002-2005, and General Powell’s speechwriter from 1989-1993Lawrence Wilkerson – wrote an op-ed entitled “The Taliban in our Midst,” in which in part he said: “Military officers who wear their religion on their sleeve are a danger to our country at any time, but especially after the terrorists attacks of September 11, 2001. Whether it’s US Army Lieutenant General William G. Boykin telling his audience that “My God is bigger than his” in the close aftermath of that tragedy, or the more recent example of US Air Force Major General Craig Olson saying in uniform and in public – and speaking in tones far more like a preacher than a military officer – ‘I am a redeemed believer in Christ,’ these are dangerous men, making dangerous displays of religion.

“What US Air Force Major General Craig Olson did was particularly egregious. Not only does he display by his remarks the naiveté of a twelve-year-old Boy Scout — and thus call into immediate, serious question the billions of dollars and hundreds of young lives entrusted to his care and leadership — he also repeatedly calls on a single religion, indeed seems almost entranced by that religion, in uniform, in public, and on, of all things, God TV, an international broadcast. As a soldier of 31 years myself, I found his exhortations discomfiting, dismaying, and dangerous. Frankly, I also found them flatly incredible: I had never heard such words uttered by a general officer in my life.”

Wilkerson, who is, by the way, a retired United States Army Colonel, so he speaks from experience, and tells it like it is.

Me? I do not care what religion, or lack of religion, any soldier, sailor, airman Coast Guardsman, or marine follows. But what I do care about is my nation, and our military, and making sure that no one who has the power of giving orders that may involve life and death, is issuing those orders based upon the religion of those who must follow the orders.

Religion and military service should be mutually exclusive. They are like drinking and driving – and just as dangerous.

Note: Besides Lawrence Wilkerson, whom I identify in my post, the other names mentioned in this piece are:

Joseph Wilson – The former United States Ambassador to Gabon and Sao Tome and Principe

Mike Farrell – An actor, best known for his role as Captain B. J. Hunnicutt on the television series M*A*S*H and an activist for various political causes

Edward Asner – an actor, primarily known for his Emmy Award-winning role as Lou Grant during the 1970s and early 1980s, on both The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its spin-off series Lou Grant


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