Category Archives: Government and Religion

Soldier, Former Muslim, Converts to Catholicism in Iraq

A New York paper covers the story of First Lt. Marjana Mair Bidwell [updated link], a US Army intelligence officer and wife of another Army officer.  She “worshipped as a Muslim for 18 years,” but converted to Christianity while in college–which was the US Military Academy at West Point.

When I left Islam during college, I considered myself to have a Christian mindset because I related to a lot of the teachings. I was never baptized, though I did attend church out of curiosity.

Apparently, she began learning about Catholicism because her husband is Catholic.

I did not start with the intent of converting to Catholicism. It was just to learn more about my husband’s religion. I didn’t choose Catholicism, it chose me. Halfway through the classes, I realized that the Catholic Church is very straightforward and that there’s something very moving about the Eucharist. That was the turning point for me.

The classes to which she is referring are the religious education classes taught by the Chaplain Read more

Trijicon Offers to Remove Bible References from Sights

Trijicon, the maker of the gun sight that has a Bible reference on it, has volunteered to remove the references and cease marking future sights to be used by the US and foreign governments.  It will also provide free kits to remove the markings from those sights that have already been deployed.  The company issued a press release that was picked up by Fox, CNN, and other news organizations.

The offer to pre-empt an official call for their removal, while unexpected, is actually an excellent public relations decision both from a business and faith perspective.  It avoids a “confrontation” over contracts and religious controversy, and it permits Trijicon to be viewed as both forthright and amenable to its customer, even if it does not have to be.  While some Christians in similar situations may dig their heels in, there is no moral imperative that requires Trijicon to refuse to accede to the feelings of its customer.  Their offer alleviates the concerns of the military and diffuses the public scandal.

For its part, the stern government reaction (as noted by General Petraeus, at least) undermines those who have claimed this was an unConstitutional collusion Read more

Soldiers Work to Repair Ancient Church

According to the New York Times, St. Elijah’s Monastery was damaged during the initial fighting in Operation Iraqi Freedom.  It was subsequently occupied by a US Army unit as a garrison:

The division then made the site a garrison and painted its emblem on the stucco above the low door to the monastery’s chapel. The insignia remained there until a chaplain contemplated the righteousness of having “Screaming Eagles” adorn a house of God.

“That’s not right,” the chaplain said, as the story goes.

The US Army unit now occupying St. Elijah’s now aims Read more

“Secret Bible Codes” on Military Weapons

The latest “breaking scandal” on religion and the military is nearly laughable.  In short:

  • Trijicon has a well-known reputation for building high quality weapons sights.
  • The US military contracted with them to buy their commercial rifle sights.
  • The company includes an abbreviated Bible reference in the model name on the sight.
  • ABC News reported that Michael Weinstein has called these “Jesus rifles.”

This “controversy” is so contrived as to be ridiculous.  However, if you’d like to read more, what follows is a cross-section of the comments made and the reasoning (or lack thereof) behind them.    Read more

Air Force Times: Prayer Should be Private

The Air Force Times has editorialized that

Before the Air Force can move past its reputation for religious intolerance, it must do one more thing: Eliminate prayers from official events.

Beginning an editorial with such a statement certainly reveals the tone.  After all, while the Air Force has been accused of intolerance by vocal critics, no institutional intolerance has ever been substantiated, and there is no public indication that intolerance is a valid “reputation” of the Air Force.

The editorial also treats a fairly complex issue rather whimsically.  The simple and unexplained demand that the Air Force “eliminate prayers from official events,” after all, would have prevented a Chaplain from praying at the nationally-televised memorial service at Fort Hood attended by the President.  Read more

Respect Healthy for Different Faiths, but Still Criticized

A few weeks ago, the Air Force Times solicited comments from its readers after noting the “improved religious climate” at the US Air Force Academy.  They asked:

What do you think?  Have you found the service and its members to be tolerant of Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Wiccans and others who are not Christians?

It would appear, based on the most recent Air Force Times article, that the responses were largely positive.  The article is entitled “Respect healthy for different faiths,” which seems to indicate a positive environment for “different faiths” within the Air Force.

Within the article, however, the author focuses on those who take issue with Christianity in the military, rather than the ‘healthy respect’ that is apparently evident.  The article begins with the presumption of truth in claims that the culture of the Air Force causes an ‘assumption’ of Christianity:

A predominance of Christians in the Air Force creates an atmosphere that assumes all airmen are Christians, allowing prayers and other religious displays at everything from football games and holiday parties to commander’s calls and change-of-command ceremonies, according to non-Christian airmen interviewed by Air Force Times.

While there is a “predominance of Christians” in the United States and in its military, the presence of prayer is not inherently a Christian endeavor, and Read more

Fort Hood Report Addresses Chaplains, Religious Accommodation

The Fort Hood report (pdf), authored at the request of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, is being widely circulated and read by a variety of pundits.  As previously noted, many have already taken note that it calls for action against the officers who appear to have not followed standards when Hasan’s evaluations did not match his reported performance.  Two other findings are also important to the relationship between religion and the military: a review of the policy on Chaplain endorsers, and a recommendation that the military define a “baseline” for religious conduct.

First, with regard to the officers who supervised US Army Maj HasanRead more

Senate to Military: Add Islamic Extremism to Banned Groups

A Senate committee is recommending that Islamic extremism be added to the list of groups that military members are prohibited from participating in or associating with.

The Defense Department’s existing policies for dealing with personnel that become involved in gangs and racist groups need to be expanded to cover new avenues of violence, [Sen. Joe] Lieberman [I-CT] and [Sen Susan] Collins [R-ME] say.

The two also encouraged the military to educate its members to be able to distinguish between “violent Islamist extremism” and “the practice of the Islamic faith.”

Unfortunately, the Senators’ well-intentioned recommendations are not nearly as simple as they seem to imply.  They present a labyrinth of logistical, political, and religious liberty issues, all of which the military must attempt to figure out on the fly.  It would appear most people agree that something needs to be done, but fulfilling that request without unnecessarily inhibiting religious liberty is another challenge altogether.

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