Sailors in Bahrain Celebrate Christmas without Christ
While recent changes in Air Force regulations and a favorable congressional hearing have given some groups a positive perception of the direction of religious liberty in the US military, it is worth noting that even that trend isn’t universal, and it hasn’t reversed some of the damage done over the past few years.
Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bahrain recently kicked off the holiday season with its traditional tree lighting — absent one of its longstanding traditions. In 2012, Jason Torpy — an atheist and former Army officer — single-handedly persuaded the US Navy to ban a children’s “live Nativity” from the tree lighting ceremony.
The reason? According to Torpy, the kids
threaten[ed] US security and violat[ed] the Constitution.
It was probably “easier” for the Navy to surrender to Torpy and remove the children’s event rather than try to defend it for its positive value. Thus, plastic baby Jesus got booted from NSA Bahrain’s annual ceremony.
About six months later, a group of religious liberty advocates formed the Restore Military Religious Freedom coalition. Since then, when such “controversies” have arisen, the coalition has been able to provide a balancing voice to the cries demanding restriction of religious liberty in the US military. Though not without exception, the coalition appears to have been largely successful in reversing the momentum of religious liberty critics like Michael “Mikey” Weinstein, a tide change that has generally improved the environment of religious freedom in the US military.
After a few years of what some have described as “religious hostility,” the military culture — including the attitudes of the troops who comprise it — has to reacclimate to an environment that values religious liberty and expression. As Todd Starnes recently reported, not every military member has received the memo: A troop reported being scolded by an officer for reading Todd Starnes’ God Less America on a military transport flight.
The general success of religious liberty advocates over the past few months also hasn’t necessarily translated into retroactive repairs to damage done. NSA Bahrain hasn’t advertised a children’s live Nativity in the two years since Torpy eliminated the event in Whoville. Maybe the Air Force’s reworded model — which presupposes an environment of religious expression and liberty — will serve as an example to the Navy, and the kids’ production can return one day.
And the camel can go back to being the transport for the anachronistic Wise Men, rather than being called “Santa’s Desert Reindeer.”