CNN carried an article on Wednesday about Vice President Biden’s “stimulus oversight meeting.” Neither the article nor the accompanying photo caption mentioned what many noticed in the photo.
Biden is a professed Catholic, and he evidently observed Ash Wednesday. Even though he is Vice President of the United States, and even though he was acting in his official capacity in front of the world, he is Constitutionally guaranteed the right to religious free exercise.
The same is true for members of the military. Read more
Many outlets carried news of Focus on the Family Founder James Dobson’s resignation as chairman of the organization. Interestingly, this caught the attention of some military/religion activist groups. They have frequently belittled Focus and accused it of complicity in its dealings with the US Air Force Academy just a few miles away in Colorado Springs, accusing it of attempting to “Christianize” the military.
The new outrage is over Dobson’s replacement: Patrick P. Caruana. Caruana is a 1963 Air Force Academy graduate and retired as an Air Force Lieutenant General in 1997. To some, it is the perfect proof of conspiracy.
An interesting case was decided at the Supreme Court earlier this week. Pleasant Grove City, Utah v. Summum had centered on Summum’s contention that since the city had erected a Ten Commandments on public property, they were bound to erect Summum’s “Seven Aphorisms” as well. The Supreme Court ruled–unanimously–against Summum. The case was litigated on free speech grounds, and Summum has indicated they will refile the case on church/state separation grounds.
The case is interesting because of its implications for religious freedom in the military. Read more
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