Fox News carries an interesting article based on a Liberty Counsel press release about the current “stimulus package” being debated in Congress. In a section designating funds for schools, the legislation says that funds may not be used for
modernization, renovation, or repair of facilities (i) used for sectarian instruction, religious worship, or a school or department of divinity; or (ii) in which a substantial portion of the functions of the facilities are subsumed in a religious mission.
Interestingly, Fox News chose to put a picture of the US Naval Academy Chapel as the article’s illustration. Liberty Counsel maintains that the restriction is discrimination based on viewpoint, while Americans United for the Separation of Church and State calls it “Constitutional.”
A Harvard Law professor is quoted as saying there are certainly Constitutional concerns with the legislation, but given the current judicial direction it is unlikely the Liberty Counsel would prevail.
Several news sites have reported on the results of a Gallup Poll that indicates the media may have generated a perception of “controversy” where none existed.
The poll indicated that, contrary to recent news stories, less than 10% of Americans disapproved of Obama’s choice of Pastor Rick Warren for his inaugural invocation. In fact, even among liberals and Democrats, Warren’s approval was far higher than his disapproval. By far the greatest number of respondents replied that they “didn’t know enough to say.” This led Gallup to conclude that
News media accounts of negative reactions…reflect…vocal positions of interest groups [rather] than an opinion…shared by the majority of the American public.
Ironically, Warren himself said in December that he believed the media was responsible for “the demonization of differences” that is polarizing and destructive to America:
The media often fans controversy and conflict to create a story and we start yelling at each other so much, nobody listens to each other anymore.
In short, the news media limited its reporting to vocal activists, because outside of those groups, there wasn’t a story. Some might say the on-again, off-again coverage of the military-religious “controversy” bears similar hallmarks.
President Bush has made the annual proclamation of “Religious Freedom Day” for 16 January 2009. As noted in his proclamation, it is a recognition of the 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, written by Thomas Jefferson and passed on January 16th, 1786. Notably, this was before the Constitution (signed in 1787), of which Jefferson had no part, and the Bill of Rights (passed in 1789), of which Jefferson was one of the leading proponents.
Interestingly, the President also notes
Freedom is not a grant of government or a right for Americans alone; it is the birthright of every man, woman, and child throughout the world. No human freedom is more fundamental than the right to worship in accordance with one’s conscience.
While some point to the Constitution as the origin of our freedoms, the President emphasizes that these are human liberties, whose “origin” is not restricted to “a grant of government.”
Religious Freedom Day is also advocated by a private organization at ReligousFreedomDay.com.
Focus on the Family has expressed support for Campus Crusade for Christ’s Military Ministry. The Military Ministry is known for its “Rapid Deployment Kits,” which are a New Testament, Daily Bread devotional, and the evangelistic booklet How to Know God Personally, packaged in a ziploc bag. One Air Force officer and aircrew is quoted as saying
I received the Rapid Deployment Kit a few months back and I want to extend my thanks. I carry my New Testament Bible in my flight suit when I fly. I read a Psalm before each flight Read more
Amazingly, little has changed over the past year (in fact, two years) with regard to religion in the military. No lawsuits have gone on to litigation, Congress has yet to address the controversy as they promised in 2006, and though many controversies have made the press, few have had any noticeable impact on military operations. That may help explain why military religious issues have fallen off the “Top Ten” lists of church/state and free exercise pundits (including Time). (By contrast, “Religion and the Military” featured prominently in 2006, even making the “#1” in some places.)
This year does have a unique potential, however, as President-elect Obama may bring a different perspective on both the use of the military and its internal governance. Already, some are wondering what impact his administration will have on Christians’ ability (and desire) to serve in the military. Read more
An Air Force article from Iraq notes that military Chaplains served all religions this past holiday-filled December:
Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and Pagans all observe major holy days in December. Air Force chaplains here spent much of the month making sure everyone in the diverse Joint Base Balad community had an opportunity to worship according to their beliefs.
The article includes a picture of Chaplain (Capt.) Andrew Cohen, the wing Jewish Chaplain, with a Magen David Menorah, as well as officers observing a candlelit Christmas Eve service there. Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Terese Erickson, the deputy wing chaplain in Balad, noted that
Accommodation means making sure everyone has an opportunity to worship…
and supported those words with her actions:
Army Spc. William Corum…is one of three lay leaders for a group of Wiccans and Pagans that meets here… Read more
An AF.mil article highlights a round-the-clock team of Chaplains and assistants who minister to the patients at the Air Force Theater Hospital at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.
They visit and pray with patients and the medical staff, and “set the tone” for caring for the deceased in accordance with the servicemember’s religion.
The religious support team accommodates everyone’s religious needs, Chaplain Rome said. Outside their office one can find different translations of the Bible, the Quran in — English and Arabic — and a Book of Mormon.
In an unusually moving story, the AP covers soldiers in Iraq spending their second consecutive Christmas away from their families (as they continue on their 15-month deployment). For some, it is their third in four years away from home.
“A lot of guys struggle to find meaning in Christmas. I keep reminding them what it’s about. It’s a season of hope,” said chaplain Capt. Matt Hemrick, of Belmont, North Carolina, on Christmas Eve.
Both President Bush and President-elect Obama (text and video) offered Christmas messages to the troops. Interestingly, both also referenced George Washington’s Christmas night crossing of the Deleware, as did the Joint Chiefs of Staff just a few days ago–though the current Commander-in-Chief and his incoming replacement still managed to use the word “Christmas” when referring to December 25th.
President Bush also offered a message for Kwanzaa.
As also covered at the Religion Clause.