Critics Remain Silent During Fort Hood Memorial
The moving and often emotional memorial service marking the loss of life at Fort Hood was infused with military ceremony and tradition. Military officers explained that memorials were a part of the process in war; the units gathered to memorialize their fallen, send them home, and then gather their gear to continue the mission.
Flags flew at half-staff, the National Anthem played, speakers lauded the fallen, and the sounding of taps echoed the solemnity of the occasion. Each fallen soldier was represented by a “battlefield cross:” a helmet atop an inverted rifle with bayonet and boots. A uniformed soldier sang Amazing Grace.
Another part of the tradition is prayers offered for the fallen, their friends, and their families. Chaplain (Col) Michael Lembke, Army III Corps Chaplain, wore his religious stole across the shoulders of his military uniform that bore the Christian cross and prayed to “Lord God Almighty,” asking God to “draw us to You” and to “restore to us a spirit of joy and hope.”
The fitting memorial was laden with traditions that critics–including Michael Weinstein’s Military Religious Freedom Foundation–have repeatedly and vociferously opposed.
Yet today, they remained silent.
The thought that a moving ceremony such as this might be curtailed due to Weinstein’s complaints is an anathema to the American spirit. Yet that is the potential outcome of the MRFF’s litigation and incessant accusations.
Chris Rodda, MRFF researcher, recently disagreed. In defending the MRFF, she attempted to qualify the MRFF’s demands, which would preclude sectarian references in official ceremonies. Rodda’s assertion that the MRFF would “never object” to these ceremonies, however, is unsupported by fact. In the most obvious example, the MRFF lawsuit demands an injunction that
would specifically prohibit mandatory attendance…at military functions/ formations that include a sectarian prayer.
The MRFF subsequently explained its demand by saying
The injunction [sought] is a rule requiring the Department of Defense and its personnel to not deliver sectarian prayer at mandatory attendance events.
Such an injunction would have prevented Chaplain Lembke’s prayers at the Fort Hood memorial. Contrary to Rodda’s insistent protests, the MRFF provides no qualification for award ceremonies or memorial services.
The impact of the MRFF litigation would be felt in other ways, as well, as was demonstrated at Fort Hood. For example, Chaplain Lembke read from Isaiah 40:
But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles. They shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
This is the same verse that Michael Weinstein previously called “blatant and unconstitutional” when associated with the military:
This quote…has caused numerous officers to complain of feeling both uncomfortable and isolated…Only those Christian officers who “wait upon the Lord,” apparently, will “mount up with wings as Eagles.”
Weinstein apparently felt that this verse was “sectarian,” even though it is not exclusive to one faith. The use of this Bible verse in the military setting is specifically cited in Weinstein’s lawsuit as proof of the military’s unConstitutional “promotion of religious beliefs.”
The MRFF prides itself on highlighting instances in which religion “pervades” the military, and this ceremony is ripe for their picking. Besides those incidents already mentioned, few could argue that Amazing Grace wasn’t at least superficially Christian. The Army Chief of Staff quoted the Bible, saying the sentiment expressed “applies to every soldier.”
Uniformed flag officers, and the Commander in Chief, asked God to bless their troops. (Yes, people have complained that phrase “foists” religion on the listener.) And the Chaplain said, “Let us pray,” which some have said in other circumstances consitutes an order. MRFF “clients” have even complained that they are forced to “respect” a religion by standing silently, as thousands did at Fort Hood.
Understandably, the MRFF prefers to publicize incidents of military and religion that garner shock and empathy for their cause. For example, quoting a Chaplain’s sermon on evangelism stirred up those who oppose military members hearing about converting others, despite the servicemembers’ right to participate in a religious service of their choice.
The fact remains, however, that while the Fort Hood memorial service is not a politically palatable incident with which to take issue, it is the apotheosis of the MRFF’s complaints. It demonstrated precisely those actions that Weinstein and his MRFF call illegal; it represents everything they oppose. It should serve as their rallying cry.
That they choose to remain silent demonstrates an understandable public relations decision on their part. After all, who would support a group that vilified the Fort Hood ceremony for violating the Constitution and blurring the lines of church and state? Yet, when military officers take part in the same conduct that happened at that ceremony, that is what the MRFF claims they are doing. The prior statements of the MRFF indicate that they do take issue with the infusion of religion within the Fort Hood memorial service, even if they don’t explicitly say so.
To be clear, nothing that happened at the Fort Hood memorial service was impermissible. In fact, it duly honored the service and sacrifice of those American soldiers. It was moving, appropriate, and likely touched the nation, not just the military.
If Michael Weinstein gets his way, however, memorials like those may come to an end.