Anti-Religious Groups Harass West Point over Prayer
Since former cadet (and current MRFF “client”) Blake Page made his awkward public departure from West Point over “criminal” Christianity, there has been a simmering of the issue of prayer at the US Military Academy. For the most part, the only loud voices were critics who want to see West Point end public prayers.
“The First Amendment allows public officials to acknowledge our nation’s religious heritage,” he notes. “Anti-religious groups with misguided ideas about the First Amendment should not be allowed to destroy a time-honored, perfectly constitutional American custom.”
The ADF sent a letter to West Point on behalf of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, a group emerging as a leading voice defending religious liberty in the US military. Writing in response to a letter from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which criticized West Point as running “afoul of the Constitution and violating cadets’ rights,” the ADF said
Contrary to AU’s accusations, the prayers neither coerce cadets to participate in religion nor endorse religion itself…
I encourage you to disregard AU’s letter and rest assured that West Point’s longstanding practice of solemnizing milestones in cadet careers with invocations and benedictions does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
The ADF and CARL make a particularly strong point about freedom:
One of West Point’s tasks is to help cadets learn how to celebrate the religious diversity in the Army. This is not done by stripping “the public square of every last shred of public piety”…but by providing a positive view of America’s rich religious diversity.
As has been noted here before — and as was recently celebrated in a remembrance of Thomas Jefferson — religious liberty is protected by its practice, not its stifling. Truth is protected by the competition of ideas — not their prohibition:
Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself…she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons: free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.
Cadets (and people in general) learn more from experiencing the practice of liberty than being “protected” from it.
The “demand letter” from the AU requested a 30-day response — which will expire this week.
The debate is more complex than can be expressed in just the two letters, but it is notable that critics are not the only public voice on the issue. In some cases, the military has faced onslaughts of criticism (much of it manufactured and coordinated on Facebook) for its practices and has received little public defense from religious freedom groups.
It is admirable, then, that the ADF and CARL should let West Point know the “advice” they are receiving (in the form of a heckler’s veto from atheists and critics) isn’t correct — and that a segment of society stands with West Point and the US military in its defense of the religious freedom of US troops.
There is demonstrable value when groups speak out in support of the religious freedom of US troops against the attacks of organizations like the AU or the MRFF. For example, religious freedom critic Michael Weinstein — self-declared “agitator” of the US military — relies heavily on being the loudest voice in the room to get his way. In some cases, he’s become accustomed to seeing some people ask “how high?” when he says “jump.”
You might be surprised to learn how quick some people in the military are to “jump” — and how quickly they stop when they hear a professionally stated legal opinion from the opposing point of view.
And that “interference” really pulls Weinstein’s chain. If you’ve never seen a grown man throw a temper tantrum, it isn’t pretty.