Georgian Military, US Marines Blessed before Afghan Deployment
The Republic of Georgia recently prepared to deploy a Light Infantry Battalion to Afghanistan in support of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
The fairly standard article on the deployment ceremony was accompanied by two interesting photos:
A chaplain from the Republic of Georgia’s 33rd Light Infantry Battalion anointed more than 800 Georgian soldiers at the conclusion of the battalion’s deployment ceremony.
Georgian Maj. Zaza Tsamalashvili, battalion commander of the 33rd Light Infantry Battalion, and his troops kneel down while receiving a blessing from the battalion chaplain during the battalion’s deployment ceremony.
The vast majority of Georgians reportedly claim Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and the ceremony seemed to reflect the practice of that religion. The Georgian Constitution indicates an “independence of the church from the state” with “special recognition” for Orthodox Christianity.
For those who might have missed it, this is the Republic of Georgia, not the US state of Georgia. However, this article is a US Marine Corps release, as the Georgian unit was being assisted by a “training and advisory group” from the US military.
The US Marines participated in the ceremony: the personnel on the far left of the kneeling formation, helmets removed, are Marines. (Article and photos by US Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Alexis R. Mulero.) What might be “controversial” for those “sensitive” toward religious issues seems to have been a non-event for the Marines:
The Georgia Liaison Team was honored to take part in the ceremony and share this moment with their fellow warriors. Their participation at this ceremony displays the great partnership between the U.S. and the Republic of Georgia and also the mutual respect they have for each other’s customs and courtesies.
It is entirely permissible for US military members to participate in a pre-deployment ceremony, even if it involves prayer (as in the US) or the religious ceremonies of the Georgians. Contrary to some critics’ assertions, the US military does not “establish” a religion by virtue of its association with religion.
There is an important caveat, however. The overriding presumption is no Marines in the formation asked to be excused for reasons of religious conscience. Kneeling in this context is a participatory physical act of religious contrition — quite unlike the passive ”solemnizing prayer” in an American military ceremony. Were a Marine to be forced to participate, without regard to his religious beliefs, it could potentially violate his religious freedom. In general, if a US military member requested excusal from this or an equivalent event, the request would fall under religious accommodation — meaning it would have to be granted barring a greater mission need. It is difficult to think of circumstances under which it would be appropriate to require US military members to kneel in a religious portion of a foreign military ceremony.
Given the demographics of the US today, it is not unreasonable to conclude the formation was made up of those who had no problem with such participation. They may have been more focused on supporting their Georgian team members than caring about “taking a knee;” they may have been of a related Christian belief; or its entirely possible they simply didn’t care. The feedback from the unit implies there were no issues on the Marines’ parts.
Despite the overt Christian conduct, this is not an example of US military Christians trying to take over the world, nor is the possibility that Islamic extremists might be offended at the Christian ceremony sufficient to justify restricting liberty – contrary to the frequent claims of Michael Weinstein and his MRFF.
The participatory act does make this a unique situation. There would have been no issue, for example, had the unit stood silently as the Georgians received their blessing – regardless of the religious beliefs of the individual Marines. (It is unlikely there would have been offense on the part of the Georgians. If there had been, it would be a teachable moment for religious freedom — though ultimately it would reside in the purview of the diplomats.) Much like the prayers that sometimes occur in US military ceremonies, simply being around others who are praying does not foist religion upon the listener.
It’s possible the “controversy” over religion and the military is stronger outside the military than within it. For their part, the Marines in this unit might be surprised to learn this is an issue at all — as it overshadows their mission of showing the US military’s interaction with an ally in Afghanistan. Still, the US military takes its protection of troops’ religious freedom seriously, as many examples attest — and it respects the customs of other nations’ freedoms as well. This pre-deployment formation was no different. The participation by a US military unit was entirely permissible, as was the participation of individual Marines — so long as any who requested accommodation (if any did) were granted it.
These Marines and their Georgian friends are now fighting together in Afghanistan.
May God watch over them both.
Via the Mad Padre.