Army allows for sectarian prayer at mandatory events

Last month, MAAF received two reports of sectarian Christian prayer at mandatory military events. At Ft Campbell, a battalion chaplain was leading his unit in prayer during regular morning formations. At Ft Benning, at senior NCO reported mandatory graduation ceremonies often include prayer “in Jesus’s Name”. An Army spokesperson declared these practices entirely within Army policy. These issues arise not due to individuals taking offense at prayer, but rather due to officers using their authority to promote religion. Non-Christians are made to feel like lesser members of the unit who need to hide their beliefs or pretend to be Christian in order to have the full support of the command.

The 1st Amendment provides for free exercise of religion for individuals and prohibits establishment of religion in government. This has created great legal difficulty for government officials wishing to use their official duties for prayers. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of limited, optional nonsectarian prayer (Marsh v Chambers, 463 US 783 (1983)). There is a dizzying array of legal precedent regarding government-sponsored prayer and religious activity, but the core concept is clear – that the government should be neutral toward religion.

MAAF contacted the Army regarding their policy on sectarian prayer, especially at mandatory events such as graduations and if the Army had a policy regarding “nonsectarian” prayer. Army spokesman George Wright provided only the following response:

The Army doesn’t mandate how a chaplain ought to pray.

The Army has the best interests of some chaplains in mind but seems to be overlooking entirely over 500,000 soldiers in the active component. The question is not of how chaplains pray, but rather how they pray to captive military audiences. Chaplains are given a captive audience to serve the best interests of the military, not as an accommodation of their personal religious practices. The Army is not providing for free exercise of religion, but are instead providing an unregulated government platform for evangelism.

This may seem fair until we remember that 98% of chaplains are Christian. This creates an unavoidable impression of government promotion of Christianity. To avoid this appearance of government promotion of one belief over others, many government agencies and even chaplains opt for nonsectarian prayer to “God” rather than Jesus, Allah, Vishnu, or another specific deity. This still excludes nontheists but it is at least nonsectarian. The only way to ensure government neutrality toward religion is for commanders to avoid prayer at mandatory events.

At Ft Campbell, the MAAF report notified the battalion commander of a prayer he had not authorized. The battalion commander immediately ended prayer at morning formations. The chaplain was instructed to provide for the free exercise of religion of the soldiers within the command but that the command itself was neutral toward religion and required no prayers. At Ft Benning, young trainees are likely still hearing prayers to Jesus at their mandatory graduation ceremonies.

Mandatory military ceremonies are no place to mandate religion. Certain optional events, like personal retirements or individual award ceremonies are also appropriate places for prayer if an individual wishes to have add that to the event. This is in addition to the ample facilities and scheduled opportunities for worship services. Troops may also choose to pray as a group separate from mandatory formations, so long as there is no appearance of command endorsement or social pressure.

When Army leaders are allowed to insert prayer into mandatory military events at will, the government clearly marginalizes those with nontheistic beliefs. When the Army allows for sectarian prayer and has a chaplaincy 98% Christian, there is a clear privileging of Christianity within government. When less than 70% of the military self-identifies as Christian, the Army chaplaincy and a few leaders are in a position to alienate a large portion of their units with unwanted prayer.

Chaplains are increasingly undermining their credibility to serve the diversity of the modern military. Failure to reach out to atheists and humanists, lack of accountability, reinforcement of barriers to diversity, questionable oversight of Spiritual Fitness, biased chaplaincy resources, and blockage of humanist identity are all red flags for the chaplaincy’s ability to embrace the new nontheist diversity in the military. It may be time for top Army leadership to step in to reform chaplain services. The first step should be to break the news that status as an Army chaplain is not a free pass to evangelize a captive audience.

46 Responses to Army allows for sectarian prayer at mandatory events

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  14. if religion was meant to be separate from Government how come our founding fathers promoted religion IN everything they did?????

    • Firstly, none of the founding fathers were atheists. This is the fact you may be referring to; however, few of them subscribed completely to Christianity.

      Secondly, they did not promote religion in everything they did. In fact, they were almost uniformly staunch secularists, meaning they believed in the separation of church and state.

      Thirdly, our Constitution guarantees freedom to mentally subscribe to any creed, even one that believes in the overthrow of the government. In no way did the founding fathers commit our armed forces to religion.

      Finally, I must point out that if you are referring to any case where a founding father said “under God,” assume they meant “our country.” God is a word, like all words to help convey a message. It has not power on its own but the power that a human may invest in it.

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  16. The Canadian Forces Chaplaincy is a bit different. While overwhelmingly Christian, all chaplains are trained in being able to “minister to all” because in the small Canadian Forces we don’t have the luxury of large numbers.
    Most prayers which are offered, on parade or at formal dinners, are inclusive, in accordance with a policy promulgated by the Chaplain General more than a decade ago. As a military journalist I got to interview him about it, and he was quite clear and firm. Chaplains when in their own churches naturally will follow their demoninational practices. But when officiating at public ceremonies, the rule is keep it brief and keep it generic.
    By and large, it seems to be working.

    Canadian military commanders do not equate religious belief with patriotism or fitness to be a soldier, by the way. There are always a few, but we don’t have that kind of “Christian soldier” mentality that seems so prevalent in the US forces.
    I’ve seen some abuses, but you guys are really, really wrapped up in it.
    We let gays in a long time ago, and our chaplains perform same-sex marriages, which are legal throughout Canada. We also have transgendered soldiers. No problem.

    But I think we still have a long way to go.

    • Sounds cool. Good for our northern neighbors

    • That’s why, whenever there is a world crisis or grave danger, NATO, the UN, and the world’s democracies all say, “Geez, this is bad! We need CANADA here! They’re atheists and gay!”

      Stuff it, Canuck. Don’t you have a hockey game to watch while sitting on your sofa?

      • Apparently, you’re unaware Canada is a major player in Afghanistan, with several of their troops earning US decorations for bravery.

        They served in Korea, and did far more than their share in WWII.

        Stuff it, bible-wanker. Don’t you have a “reality show” to watch while sitting on your sofa?

        BTW, you might not want to criticize real men, given your obvious lack of manliness.

        • Canada is, at best, a fourt-rate military “power” and it has never conducted any overseas military mission without either the US or the UK playing the initial and superior role.

          If Canadians are so “manly”, why is it they have so many topless bars there and why is it their biggest domestic manufactured export is beer? Sounds like you’ve mistaken “manliness” for frat-boy antics that seems to occupy most Canuck’s time. I guess that’s why you have a dwindling birthrate — too drunk and too besotted over topless/bottomless lap-dance wh#res — and let’s not forget too GAY — to get it up with a real woman, eh?

          Maybe if you called the couch a couch, instead of that f#ggoty term you use (“sofa”), you might get your girlfriends panties down while sitting on it and do something about your low birth rate. (Assuming, of course, that –unlike the members of the Canadian Armed Forces — you actually want to have sex with women as opposed to another man.)

          • Wow GOP_NYC, you are about as dumb as a bag of hammers. Canada was in WW1 from 1914-1918, not 1917 like you. And Canada declared war on Hitler in Sept., 39, not 2.5 years later, only after being attacked like the US (I wonder how many fewer would have died if the US had the cojones to help in 1939). And as for the post-1945 period, the US has been responsible for starting most of the wars so of course they have more experience invading countries and killing brown people for oil and other resources.

            The US, when it’s not attacking wedding parties with its drones, is waging computer war, assassinating people it doesn’t like (including Americans), propping up murderous dictators, etc.

            Your country is an immoral rogue state and you should be ashamed of defending its actions.

          • WWI wasn’t out war; it was England’s war. Its shameful that media interests here egged us into it (and that we shipped weapons to you) simply becase of the pressure of the Balfour Declaration. Americans NEVER should have died there. Nothing was accomplished by it except by idiot British and French diplomats to instigate a worse war twenty years later.

            We never declared war on Germany, dumbass Germany declared war on us. And lucky for you and the Limeys you grovel to with your despicable, fetid “Queen”. Had you the guts Americans had to throw England out of North America, as we did, you wouldn’t have had to go fight Europe’s war among the imperial powers.

            But, of course, once we were in, we took over the joint (as Americans are wont to do, because you Brits and Brit Lite Canadians are such bloody incompetents.) That’s why when people think of the heroes of WWII, they think of Ike, Patton, Bradley, Marshall and MacArthur and, yes, even Churchill (whose mother was American.) When they think of the hapless Brits, they think of Operation Market Garden and the idiot Montgomery. They NEVER think of any Canadians. EVER. (Of course, nobody thinks of Canada much about ANYTHING. (Aside from Hockey, Labatt’s Beer, and exotic dancers, you really haven’t offered that much to the world.)

            Of course, since Canada mother country abandoned her imperial responsibilities due to your inevitable incompetence, we’ve been forced to clean up the assorted messes you and the other imperialists left around the world. Let’s go down the list of countries where America has had to clean up the mess left by European Imperialism, shall we?

            Korea – N/A
            Vietnam – French Empire Legacy
            Lebanon – French Empire Legacy
            Grenada – British Empire Legacy
            Iraq War I – British Empire Legacy (Occupation)
            Iraq War II – British Empire Legacy (Occupation)

            Of course, we won’t mention the Berlin Airlift where your mother country would have let millions starve or the Marshall Plan that cleaned up the mess your mother country’s nasty dispute with Hitler caused.

            As I said, Canada is a fourth rate power (militarily and otherwise) of little significance or importance. Frankly, you’re lucky we don’t decide to invade to take over your timber and oil, drink your beer, and kidnap your topless dancers.

          • You’re a sad little hater, and your precious empire will be in the dustbin of history in just a few years. A violent people, you will be undone by your violence.

            And how sweet of you to say that you would have left the Jews to burn since it wasn’t your war.

          • Of course they knew about the camps, as early as 1940. They didn’t know the extent of them. Not doing much for Israel? Why should we? Israel can kick pretty much anyone’s azz except 5-6 much larger countries.

            Anyway, I’m sick of you. I’m proud that we’re a fourth-rate military power; it means we put our resources into things that don’t kill people, usually for no reason other than they’re sitting on the US’s oil, or are brown and don’t obey. If the US would cut its military expenditures by half, the world would be a better place and so would your country.

  17. Yes 90% of Chaplains are christian, guess what makes up the largest percentage of our fighting force, thats right CHRISTIANS. As more and more religions come to serve and those who feel the calling to lead the followers of thier religion step up to be chaplains there will be more chaplains of other faiths. I remember in basic training the Jews got busses of base to go to worship, we were al jelous cause they got candy when they went. When ever there is prayer at a mandatory event you dont have to pray, the praying part isn’t mandatory. I have seen Catholics say thier own prayer as well as muslims while a Baptist is conducting the prayer. I have also seen Athiests stand silently respecting others right to freedom of religion.

    • And you are proud that Christians dominate everything you just outlined? No, the majority are NOT christians anymore. 35% of Americans now identify as “NO religion.” You seem to not give a damn that there are Jews, Muslims, Wiccans and many other religons also trampled on by christians, but then, christianity has always been all about opression and domination.

      • Then I suggest you get those “no religion” types to a recruiting office and sign on the dotted line.

        Oh, wait! Signing on the dotted line requires COMMITMENT TO A BELIEF, something that is generally lacking among you atheists. The only thing you’re committed to is the destruction and denigration of others’ beliefs.

        • I served 25 years in the USAF and US Army. How many years did you serve?

          • USMC 1976/1980 (E-5, Ret.) Then, I went to college and learned all the atheist crap that they jam down stupid kids’ throats (along with junk socialist Economics and Sociology). Told the profs exactly what they wanted to hear and graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. Didn’t belive a word of it, but the credentials got me into doors that would have been closed had I said what I really thought.

          • Think Before You Act

            I believe as much of that as the other words you speak. None of it. Go read the history book, not the bible and see what Christianity has done and what the Church covers up. The bible changes as the Church wants it. Do you know how they decided Jesus was immortal instead of a regular man… look it up. History is covered up by the ignorant that chose not to look at the evidence and believe only in what someone else tells them without fact. Then they get upset when no one believes what they believe. You act like a 16 year old girl when no one shows up to her birthday party and suddenly realize no one likes you. Ego much. Pride and wraith are deadly sins mate.

  18. Poor Atheists. They have no one to pray to.

    • Neither do you, because god is imaginary.

      • Even if He is, the practice gives aid and comfort to millions. Religious charitable works provide more basic relief and sustenance than most governments. And when people die, it eases their pain and their fear of what is to come.

        So, what, exactly, are you bitching about and so insistent that nobody be allowed to practice their religion?

        • Think Before You Act

          Don’t you find it funny that so called “Christians” curse and talk down on their fellow man. Isn’t that a sin and against the bible. How can you preach to us when you don’t follow your own rules. Interesting. This is why Christianity is failing, not because of what it teaches but how YOU act.

  19. Man you need to learn to get along with others. Did you really say Chaplins are guilty of a “Failure to reach out to atheists and humanists”. Last I checked atheists and humanists get offended when a Chaplin reaches out to them. Are you people for real? So 70% of the military by your own words should have their own freedom of religious expression limited (which is protected by the constitution) so a few people won’t be offended. By the way there is nothing in the constitution that protects you right to “not be offended”. If that were the case the 70% you are offending by your intollerance might have something to say.
    It appears your belief is just a negative reaction to others beliefs. Kind of sad. Not a real positive way to live and get along with others.

    • Forcing others to participate in unwanted prayer is a bad way to get along with others. Praying on your own time, in your own area is a great way to get along with others. Go right ahead. But if you want a captive audience, then that’s not ok. And don’t push around that 70% number with sectarian prayer. You’re trying to lump together Methodists, Lutherans, Catholics, Mormons, and Assemblies of God. They might worship Jesus but they all have vastly different concepts of what Jesus taught about America, gays, science, scripture, women, salvation, the church, and basically every important piece of theology. Best to exercise your religion freely without forcing others to do it with you.

      • Son when others pray no one is forcing you to do so. But you are trying to not let others be free to do so in the setting they wish to. Your intollerance and anger are clouding your sense of judgment. Freedom of religious expression is an important freedom that service men should be glad to see on display. It is one of the things you fight to protect. If you have to hide to do it you might as well live in Iran

        • Ignorant statement. You can enjoy and practice your religion but you cannot dominate public forums with it. How would you like the military to hand you a muslim prayer rug, or a yarmulke, and tell you
          “sorry, this is the majority religion now.” No, you wouldn’t. And I would defend your right NOT to have anyone elses religion shoved down YOUR throat. Don’t compare Freedom From Religion to Iran; actually, christians is this country have the same problem AS muslims in Iran; our way or we will shame and persecute you. Religion is poison when it it forces, in ANY way.

        • First off, the very nature of a formation does not allow for non compliance. The non religious must (read “are forced”) to take part simply because they can’t walk away. The argument that no two Christian denominations practice their faith the same is valid and should be acknowledged. Add to this Jews, Pagans, et al and you get a lot of folks being forced to acquiesce to your version of faith. Offering soldiers the option to take part or depart would be a better approach.

          As for freedom to practice your religion… When I was a kid (a long time ago) we were all taught that your freedom ends where my freedom begins. In other words you don’t have the right to practice your religion in such a way that I must take part. Would you be as open if the Chaplin was a pagan? Would chafe if you were forced to stand in a formation listening to a pagan pray to the Goddess? I would be a buffalo nickel you would throw a fit!

      • Well, Jesus didn’t say anything about “America”, because it didn’t exist. He didn’t really address science or theology, either. (Theologians, who came much later, discussed theology.) He followed scripture, preached eternal salvation, said that there would be a church. and he was respectful of women.

        So, that leaves gays. Jesus and the New Testament both condemned homosexual acts. And since homosexuals are generally selfish, narcissistic, self-indulgent, self-destructive hedonists, they have a problem with Jesus.

        So, what else is new?

        • I missed the part where Christian scripture is relevant to US law. Can you show me that part of the Constitution?

          • The text of the Constitution is silent, because it is the “how” of American government. They “why” of the government is found in the declaration, which is laden with references to the Almighty.

            But even without direct reference to scripture in the Constitution, biblical principles run throughout it. There is freedom, but with responsibility (a Christian precept); there is a balance of power (to guard the governed from the depravity of the governing); and biblical themes on judicial conduct and due process are repeated in the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.

            Alexis de Toqueville said that America could not have been created without a national foundation of Christian precepts.

            But my role here isn’t to qualify the Constitution under religious authority. My role is to question why you feel it so important to try to destroy religious affiliation from every aspect of American life simply because you choose to be an atheist.

            Explain that, please? I missed that part in civics class that said “If Johnny’s not religious, NOBODY can be religious.” Or the part that said, “If there is some secular occasion (Gay “Pride” Day?), EVERYBODY must honor it in the name of “diversity”, even if it is offensive to their most deeply held religious (or simply personal) beliefs. Explain that to me….I must have had flu or something that week because I’m pretty sure the teacher didn’t mention it. (Of course I went to school before the Leftist and the Communists infiltrated America’s leading teachers’ colleges, so the horsesh|t you think makes up civil society might not have been covered back then.)

          • I am currently siverng a youth leader for New Vision Fellowship out of Savannah, Ga and your Youth Chaplincy Certification Program caught my attention. I was wondering if and when you are bringing your program to Atlanta, GA?

    • Troops are free to worship as they please. They are not free to force others to do so. There’s even a chapel they can go to in order to pray or consult with chaplains. They can pray in their barracks. They can pray in private.

      What you can’t do is call me into formation and insist I pray with you.

      Except, apparently they can.

      However, clearly, I have the same religious freedom. My religion calls for shouting, “FCUK YOUR HOMO JESUS!” at the end of prayers. Surely you will respect my religious freedom?

  20. I have sat around & I got to thinking about the Chaplain Corps in the US Military. It seems so demoralizing that your drill sgts tell you to kill & survive. But some shmuck who believes in a being who stalks your every moment of your life, is about to see if your stupid enough to believe & pray to a zombie. Go figure I got high when I started. lol

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