Critics Silent during Medal of Honor Ceremony
President Barack Obama presented the parents of Sergeant First Class Jared Monti with his posthumous Medal of Honor last Thursday. The official ceremony was attended by government officials, civilians, and military members, including the surviving members of the patrol that engaged in the firefight that took Monti’s life.
The sacrifice that SFC Monti made reflected the greatness of character that embodies the American spirit. Unfortunately, much of the coverage of Monti’s award focused on the fact that no living military member has received the Medal of Honor during the long-running wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
On the other hand, it was interesting to note where very little attention was given, despite the display of allegedly controversial conduct that occurred–not once, but twice–during the ceremony. The President, members of Congress, military Generals and leaders, all on national television, were led by a uniformed officer in an overtly religious act.
It was tradition. It was fitting. It was right.
If you believe some people, though, it was also illegal.
In this official government ceremony for military members, with military members of all ranks in attendance, the US Army Chief of Chaplains, Chaplain Douglas Carver—a Major General wearing two Christian crosses on his military lapels—opened the ceremony with a prayer that cited the New Testament and included “in Your Most Holy Name.”
When the ceremony concluded, the prayer included a request that “Your divine favor and wisdom rest upon our President,” and also closed “in Your Holy Name.”
This is the same Chaplain for whom one group—Michael Weinstein’s Military Religious Freedom Foundation—has demanded court-martial, calling him a “child of wretched, unconstitutional religious supremacy and fundamentalist Christian promotion.” Besides the multiple enlisted members of the military, the attendees included Secretary of the Army Pete Geren and his incoming replacement, John McHugh—both of whom have been loudly criticized by the MRFF for their associations with Christian ministries and church/state issues. (McHugh was called a “Christian supremacist tarantula on the American Constitutional wedding cake.”)
Currently, the MRFF is the co-plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (who was also at the ceremony) that functionally demands an end to prayer at military ceremonies (see the prior discussion).
Because the President is not bound by Department of Defense regulations (even though he is the Commander in Chief), it is unlikely that Weinstein’s lawsuit would directly impact similar ceremonies in the future, though it would impact the actions of Chaplains.
Still, the conduct in the ceremony itself—ranking military members delivering prayers at public military functions with subordinates—is precisely that which Weinstein aims to eliminate.
Is the MRFF likely to complain about this ceremony? Hardly. It would be political suicide for Weinstein to decry the inclusion of prayers (even by a “wretched…fundamentalist”) that occurred during the widely publicized posthumous awarding of our nation’s highest military honor.
The MRFF knows it is unlikely that any reasonable person in America would object to the act of prayer in that ceremony.
What those reasonable people don’t know, though, is that despite the MRFF’s silence after this ceremony, their explicit purpose is to eliminate prayers in the military just like those ones.
Make no mistake: It is entirely inappropriate for people of power and authority to use their power and authority to coerce others into ideological beliefs. That does not mean that those people cannot have ideological beliefs, nor that they cannot express those beliefs.
The mere association of, in this case, military members with religion is neither inappropriate nor prohibited. It is a natural result of religious liberty, a freedom repeated in our Constitution–the same Constitution SFC Monti gave his life defending.