Air National Guard Ignores FFRF Atheist Complaint

Not long after receiving a letter (PDF) from the First Liberty Institute, the New Hampshire Air National Guard at the Pease ANG Base has said they have chosen to ignore the previously reported complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation:

“We don’t plan on responding to the FFRF,” [Greg Heilshorn, spokesman for the New Hampshire National Guard] said. “We haven’t had any formal complaints from our airmen internally regarding any concerns with prayers being said at various ceremonies. We will continue as we’ve done before. It’s our tradition. We believe our chaplains…[are a] vital part of our organization.”

Well done. The US military is not obligated to respond to the FFRF — or any other third party complaint — at all. By declining to do so, they avoid the perception they are legitimizing the FFRF or its generalized accusations about religious expression in the US military.  Meanwhile, if there are any actual complainants who have an actionable grievance, they still have access to every grievance system within the military.

Part of the issue with this situation is the vagueness of the FFRF complaint. The FFRF basically complained “generally” about prayer at formal events, without specifically citing an example of such prayer or what, specifically, made it impermissible. For example, the FFRF even made reference to “readings from the Christian Bible,” which the ANG couldn’t even recall ever happening:

Heilshorn said he attended many ceremonies as a public affairs officer, but he’s never heard of chaplains quoting the Bible during invocations. He then backtracked to say that they “might quote some of the more iconic or well-known verses about going into combat or going into war, but nothing at length or in depth.”

In other words, the Guardsmen may hear the iconic “no greater love” biblical citation, not a sermon or religious Bible reading event.

The FFRF then began moving the goalposts of their already vague complaint:

“Religious promotion in the military is a rampant problem,” [Sam Grover, FFRF staff attorney] said. “There are many situations where chaplains try to indoctrinate service members.”

Naturally, Grover provides zero of the “many” examples of this “rampant” problem — though they would likely include Navy shipboard prayers, to which the FFRF has long unsuccessfully objected. Regardless, Grover’s deflection is irrelevant to a complaint about prayers at formal ceremonies.

First Liberty’s Mike Berry wrote to Pease ANGB on behalf of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, which represents a large number of military chaplain endorsers — and thus is affected when the military makes policy changes about chaplains. Berry effectively described that allowing chaplains to offer prayers is not only permissible, it is also protected. After making specific citations, Berry concluded by saying

the Constitution, federal law, and Department of Defense regulations all support your practice of permitting uniformed chaplains to offer invocations at command functions. Moreover, those legal authorities actually forbid military commanders from censoring or prohibiting such invocations.

It’s about time that was said…again.

Still, it is worth noting both the FFRF and First Liberty (somewhat understandably) focused on chaplains and their rights. But the purpose of a chaplain’s presence and prayer at the cited formal ceremonies — deployment, retirement, or promotion — isn’t for the chaplain’s own edification.  He’s not there (exclusively) to exercise his own rights.

The chaplain is there for his troops — and their rights.

Think about what the impact the FFRF’s desired endstate — no prayers — would be on the troops. How would the protected religious expression of all US troops (not just religious ones) fare if they were told chaplains had been banned? What about those troops who find encouragement, reassurance, and support from the chaplains’ prayers? What about those whose religious exercise is supported by the chaplains’ prayers?

Grover and the FFRF would inhibit and prohibit the religious freedom not just of chaplains, but the FFRF also seeks to also restrict the religious freedom of US troops.

There will certainly be some troops who don’t like listening to prayers. But it neither picks their pocket nor breaks their leg to let their fellow troops do so — and that, by far, is the most common reaction from such troops. The practice of freedom guarantees offense — and US troops are generally ok being exposed to something “different”.

After all, “diversity” of thought and belief makes the US military stronger, right?

Also at the Stars and Stripes and Stream.org.

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