US Soldiers Practice Faith, Free Exercise
Nearly 100 American Muslim soldiers gathered at Fort Jackson to pray as a group to mark Eid al Fitr, celebrating the end of Ramadan. The call to prayer was led by Chaplain (Lt Col) Abdul-Rasheed Muhammad of the US Army Chaplain Center and School. The Chaplain lauded the soldiers’ participation, saying
We want (the Soldiers) to be empowered through the spiritual foundation that Islam provides.
When members of the military fail in their respect and protection of religious liberty, it is often front page news. Unfortunately, successes are often treated as non-events. For example, in this barely-noted story, a Muslim soldier recounts how the Drill Sergeants in basic training specifically ensured that he understood his freedom to exercise his religion:
“When I came here, I was scared that we couldn’t do our Muslim practice, but in basic training they told us we are allowed to fast during Ramadan,” said one Soldier who chose not to be identified. “Yesterday, when I was training, (the drill sergeants) told me I was allowed to (participate) here, because I’m Muslim. … I found there is a lot of freedom to practice my Eid here, especially in the Army. It’s too easy. They make it too easy for me.”
These soldiers exercised their religious liberties and prayed as a group, in their US military uniforms, as explicitly permitted by military regulations. They exercised the freedoms that all military members have to celebrate their religious beliefs as they choose (with some caveats for accomplishing the mission).
Photo credit Susanne Kappler, Fort Jackson Leader
Interestingly, military Christians photographed under similar circumstances are sometimes criticized for “violating the Constitution” or providing “propaganda” for American adversaries.
Richard Baker, one of two board members of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, has said a mere photograph of an officer simply in proximity to a religious symbol is “sufficient to coerce” his military subordinates, and that it is a “de facto…endorsement” of those religious beliefs. How much worse, then, would photographs of military members engaging in religious acts be.
Fortunately, despite such ridiculous accusations, American servicemembers’ rights to free exercise of any religious faith (even if they are photographed while doing so) are protected by the Constitution, and they are proactively ensured by the correct actions of military leadership.