Army Chapel Welcomes All and Privileges None
Tim Mak at Politico reports a large cross adorning an Army chapel has been removed. Army Regulation 165-1, which governs Army chaplain operations, states “the chapel environment will be religiously neutral when the facility is not being used for scheduled worship” and that “symbols are to be moved or covered when not in use during services” and further that “religious symbols will not be affixed or displayed permanently.” A Star of David, Crescent and Star, Buddhist Prayer Wheel, or other religious symbol would be a violation just as a Christian cross is. This ensures that the government can provide for the free exercise of religion for private individuals without showing special preference for any given belief about religion.
This respectful action comes as Marine leaders continue to deliberate over a prominent cross posted in defiance of regulations at Camp Pendleton.
The Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers praises individuals who brought the complaint as well as military commanders who promptly removed the symbol. Politico also reports that the chaplain assigned to the base, when questioned about the cross’s removal replied simply, “I had to take it down” without further explanation. With this answer, the chaplain fomented discontent among troops rather than explain the clear regulatory requirement, the good reasoning behind the rule, and the chaplain’s error in originally allowing the cross. Pentagon officials report the cross was in place for about a month. Senior leaders should ask who posted the cross and what commanders failed to act while the cross was posted in defiance of regulations and military diversity. Considering this controversy, Pentagon officials should reiterate the policy and identify other areas where permanent religious symbols, whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or other, are improperly placed in Army chapels.
Christians are calling this an attack on their religion. This implies that putting up a 6-foot cross on a prominent military facility is not an attack on all competing religions. One soldier said he sees the cross daily between the dining facility and the gym and sees it as a “a daily reminder of my faith and what Jesus accomplished for me.” This large cross in a prominent location also implies that Christianity has the endorsement of the command. The Muslims, Jews, humanists, atheists, and other non-Christians are likely to have felt as if they weren’t fully members of the unit because of their beliefs. Free exercise of religion does not extend to co-opting government resources as a bullhorn to promote one’s personal religious beliefs.
The individuals who spoke up to have this cross removed showed courage in the face of a powerful minority of Christians trying to use the government to promote their religion. They spoke up in the face of a local chaplain ready to ignore regulations to promote his or her personal beliefs. They spoke up to a command that waited for complaints instead of resolving the situation as soon as it arose. This courage will help to promote free exercise for all and equality within the military.
Todd Starnes at Fox Radio quoted Tony Perkins of the Christian Family Research Council as saying that “Americans who serve in the military are overwhelmingly Christian.” Military demographics gathered by MAAF and supported by other reports show that Christianity represents less about 70% of the population, and Protestants are less than 50% of the population. Christians can only claim a majority if they imply that Catholics, Baptists, Mormons, Lutherans, and Pentecostals all have the same beliefs. Proponents of politicized Christianity may be offended, claim majority rights, cry the victim, or misrepresent the law, but leaders like those at Camp Marmal will stand up to protect civil rights and neutrality toward religion.