Saturday, June 29, 2013

God's (young) army...

Well, Marines actually. There is a little story from the far away world of Louisiana that has many a Christian in a tiff. The department of justice (DOJ) has informed the Bossier Parish Young Marines Program (YMP).

Why did they do this? The answer is actually somewhat surprising... The official notice took exception with the programs mention of God, and inclusion of prayer. They asked that the programs remove the mentions of God, and stop the prayers in order to receive the $30,000 grant. But this isn't surprising for the reasons the believers claim. They laughably claim that this is a violation of their religions liberties. It is not (I'll get to that later). The surprise is that the DOJ actually did the right thing for a change!

The Young Marines oath reads:
“From this day forward, I sincerely promise, I will set an example for all other youth to follow and I shall never do anything that would bring disgrace or dishonor upon God, my Country and its flag, my parents, myself or the Young Marines. These I will honor and respect in a manner that will reflect credit upon them and myself. Semper Fidelis.”
 The DOJ asked that they simply remove 'God' from their pledge. Something that the First Amendment of the Constitution compels them to do. But of course, the parrish sheriff Julian Whittington, is outraged and is refusing to make the change to the pledge. He 'reasons' that “Last time I said the Pledge of Allegiance, it had God in it.” and that “The last time I picked up a dollar bill this morning, it had God on it." A laughable defense for multiple reasons. First, the current pledge and oath aren't Constitutional either. Additionally, the Pledge of Allegiance, paper currency, and national motto were originally God-free. It wasn't until the red scare that the familiar inclusions were inserted. In the early 1950's, 'under God' was inserted into the Pledge. The same is true of 'In God We Trust' being added to all paper currency. Finally, the national motto wasn't changed to 'In God We Trust' until this same time.

So Whittington is basically arguing that two (or is it three or four) wrongs DO make a right. It's a shame that he's so blind to the fact that his argument is so weakly based. Is it really a smart plan to cite other violations to argue in favor of his violation? Also, what if the oath read "I shall never do anything that would bring disgrace or dishonor upon Allah"? They'd be up in arms demanding that the funding be cut and the organization disbanded. Funny how when their god is the one getting special treatment, the Constitution can be damned. But if it were a different religion, we must stand up for the First Amendment!

In some of the comments on the story, I saw people claiming that the request to remove the God reference from the YMP oath is hypocritical because the military oath is:
I, (NAME), do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the State of (STATE NAME) against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the Governor of (STATE NAME) and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to law and regulations. So help me God.  
 But there's a few key facts that these people are missing. First, the 'solemnly swear' may be replace with 'solemnly affirm'. Second, the 'So help me God.' is optional. Finally, the military oath also excluded any mention of God in the original version. When was the mention of God added in? In the far away time of the 1960's! For all the talk of 'America's rich history of God', you'd think they'd actually stop to learn a little about what their talking about first.

The second part that the DOJ took issue with was the YMP's inclusion of prayer. Whittington calls it an optional prayer, and claims it to be a violation to religious freedom. Again, he is wrong. The important point to realize is that this 'optional prayer' he speaks of is a led prayer. This is what causes the problem. If the meeting started with a silent moment where you could pray to the deity of your choice, or not pray at all, everything would be just fine. But when you have an organization receiving government funding leading prayer (likely sectarian), you are left with an establishment clause violation. Why? Because government funding is going (in part) toward the promotion of a particular religion above others. Again, what if it were a Muslim prayer? Would they claim that it would be okay for that to take place?

It does not matter if taking part in the prayer is optional for the members. Leading the prayer itself is all that's needed for a violation. Why not just allow a silent moment for members to pray to the god of their choosing, or not pray at all? Or are they really more interested in promoting their beliefs above respecting the beliefs of all members (and follow the law). Laughably, some commenters on the story seem to think the request was made as to not offend. It was not! Frankly, it doesn't matter who or if someone was offended. Even if there was no one that took offense, the law would still dictate that these changes be made.

Then there are some of the hilarious reactions. One of the best was someone claiming that this is proof that President Obama has made atheism the official state religion. Oh, where to start with that... First of all, atheism is NOT a religion. It is the lack of belief in gods. Atheism is a religion like off is a TV station, and not collecting stamps is a hobby. So religion is not the word you want to use there. But lets look at this little fantasy. If the United States was officially atheistic, that means no religion anywhere. Are believers allowed to pray? Yes. Are there churches everywhere? Yes. Are believers being rounded up and imprisoned if they don't denounce their god? No. Is the government seeking out and destroying churches? No. That said, atheism does not demand the destruction of religion. But a government that doesn't allow religion would. Does that sound like America to you? Because to me America is a place where you can believe in whatever religion you wish, and go to the church of your choice whenever you want. That freedom is all thanks to the religious freedom and separation of church and state outlined in the Constitution.

Then there's the odd assumption that if Christianity (or any other religion) isn't the official religion, that atheism is. Believe it or not, there not being an official religion doesn't just fill the gap with atheism. What we have is something that some believers have a problem grasping. No official religion is exactly what it is and nothing more. The United States does not now, nor has it ever had an official religion. Because of this fact, Catholics can be Catholic, Lutherans can be Lutherans, Evangelical Christians can be Evangelical Christians, Muslims can be Muslims, Mormons can be Mormons, Baptists can be Baptists, Scientologists  can be Scientologists, Wiccans can be Wiccans, atheists can be atheists, etc. These believers are actually fighting the greatest gift to religious freedom that the world has ever known.

So we have a situation where the YMP's could simply remove 'God' from their oath, and have a silent moment for prayer in place of led prayer. This would put them in compliance with the Constitution, as well as respect the religious liberties of all involved. Yet they throw a fit anyway. Does that sound like the reaction of a rational person to you? Or does it sound like someone who's more interested in pushing their religion?

-Brain Hulk

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