Sunday, December 23, 2007
As a child, I went to a small school in rural Alabama near an Army post where my father was stationed. It was a very Christian town, and our teacher was "born again."
This was decades ago, but I remember clearly how she used to tell us that we must accept Jesus Christ as our personal savior. Then she would ask for hands to see who had. By age 11 I had become a nonbeliever. My father was in the Army and had fought in World War II and Korea; I concluded quickly that no loving God could have allowed those atrocities to be committed.
But we had all seen our teacher, when crossed, call an unlucky member of our class up to the front of the room, make the student lie down on her desk and be paddled. The humiliation was worse than the pain. So, when she called on us to admit that we had accepted Jesus as our savior, I dutifully raised my hand.
Thank goodness, those days are over, you might be thinking. Nothing like that could happen in this country today.
Well, think again. It happened this month, right here in Washington.
On Dec. 11, H.R. 847 was passed in the House of Representatives. Just listen to what our lawmakers have resolved:
"Whereas Christmas, a holiday of great significance to Americans," it begins, "is celebrated annually by Christians throughout the United States. . . ." It goes on to state, among other things, that "Christianity [is] the religion of over three-fourths of the American population," that "American Christians observe Christmas, the holiday celebrating the birth of their savior, Jesus Christ," and that "Christmas is celebrated as a recognition of God's redemption, mercy, and Grace."
"Now, therefore be it Resolved, that the House of Representatives . . . expresses continued support for Christians in the United States . . . acknowledges and supports the role played by Christians and Christianity in the founding of the United States . . . rejects bigotry and persecution directed against Christians, both in the United States and worldwide; and expresses its deepest respect to American Christians."
For brevity, I have omitted the resolution's references to Christianity around the world.
This resolution passed with 195 Democratic yea votes, 177 Republican yeas and nine Democratic nays. No Republicans voted against it. Ten House members voted "present." Forty were not there, including the bill's sponsor, Rep. Steve King of Iowa.
Among those voting for the resolution was a Jewish member of Congress who has asked me not to print his name. He was outraged and appalled by the bill, he told me. But he was also afraid. He thought it would hurt him with his mostly Christian constituency if he voted against it. He told some of his colleagues about his anguish. They advised him not to be stupid. It would be better for him politically if he voted for it.
It's possible that the 10 who voted "present" also had problems with the bill but decided it was safer not to vote against it. One could also assume that some of those who were absent were not there so as not to have to deal with the problem.
Earlier this year the House also passed resolutions honoring Islamic and Indian holidays but nothing that so equated a single faith with America and Americans.
How could this happen, in what will soon be 2008, in a pluralistic, multicultural, multireligious society, a society based on the concepts of religious freedom and separation of church and state? What were they thinking?
This resolution was as anti-American as anything Congress has ever passed. It disenfranchised and marginalized millions and millions of men and women, reducing them to second-class citizens.
How about this next time around: "Whereas all holidays have great significance to some Americans, be it resolved that the House of Representatives expresses its deepest respect to Americans of all faiths and non-faith alike."
The writer is a co-moderator, with Jon Meacham, of On Faith, an online conversation on religion at http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith.
Some other points of view:
Posted by one of the many bloggers who picked up the 12/21/07 "Military Evangelism Deeper, Wider Than First Thought" article from truthout.org
Posted in the comments on the 12/19/07 "'God's Basic Training' Coming under Fire" article on Military.com
Closer to Home:
Claim says Fort Riley violates freedom: Ongoing lawsuit adds evidence to bolster religious freedom charge
A religious freedom foundation has uncovered evidence it says bolsters its federal lawsuit claiming that the military is permitting widespread violations of religious freedom at installations across the country, including Fort Riley.
The evidence is part of a lawsuit filed by Army Spc. Jeremy Hall and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation against Maj. Freddy J. Welborn and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
The evidence disclosed Tuesday includes several photos and videos of religious materials and activities at Fort Riley, the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Fort Jackson, S.C.
Examples at Fort Riley, where Hall is stationed, included a display outside his military police battalion's office with a quote from conservative columnist Ann Coulter saying, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."
Another photo from Fort Riley shows the book "A Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam" for sale at the post exchange.
"These astonishing and saddening evidence which our foundation is making public today only further buttress our lawsuit filed in federal district court," said Mike Weinstein, an attorney in Albuquerque, N.M., and president of the foundation who graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1977.
Fort Riley spokesman Maj. Nathan Bond said the matter was being referred to post commanders for investigation. He said it is the Army's policy to accommodate all religious beliefs to the extent they don't conflict with military missions.
"We do take this seriously," Bond said. "The things you have mentioned to me, if they are true, do not seem in line with the Army values of respect, and we will look into it."
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan., in September, alleges Welborn threatened to file military charges against Hall and to block his reenlistment for trying to hold a meeting of atheists and non-Christians in Iraq.
Hall was serving his second tour in Iraq and has since returned to the United States. He is with the 97th Military Police Battalion out of Fort Riley.
The suit also alleges Gates permits a military culture in which officers are encouraged to pressure soldiers to adopt and espouse fundamentalist Christian beliefs. It also alleges Gates allows a culture that sanctions activities by Christian organizations, including providing personnel and equipment.
It also says the military permits proselytizing by soldiers, tolerates anti-Semitism and the placing of religious symbols on military equipment, and allows the use of military e-mail accounts to send religious rhetoric.
The Pentagon has said that the military values and respects religious freedoms but that accommodating religious practices shouldn't interfere with unit cohesion, readiness, standards or discipline.
Evidence Weinstein made public Tuesday included a video, reportedly from Campus Crusade for Christ International, that shows Air Force cadets participating in religious gatherings at the Colorado installation. In interviews, cadets say the ministry allows them to network and combat the isolation that they feel once the arrive as freshmen.
Weinstein also said that Military Ministry, part of Campus Crusade for Christ International, was active at Fort Jackson with an effort called "God's Basic Training." Included in the evidence were photographs of soldiers posing with a rifle in one hand and a Bible in the other.
Weinstein said the materials for the ministry's Bible studies teach soldiers that the U.S. military and government are instruments to spread the word of God.
A spokeswoman for Campus Crusade for Christ International said officials with the ministry hadn't had a chance to review the evidence and declined to comment.
Weinstein previously has sued the Air Force for acts he said illegally imposed Christianity on its students at the academy. A federal judge threw out that lawsuit in 2006.