Religion

One Army Under God?

Soldiers of the U.S. Army 23rd Chemical Battalion. (Lee Jin-man/AP)
Soldiers of the U.S. Army 23rd Chemical Battalion. (Lee Jin-man/AP)

 

(Economist) – The path from leaving Bibles in naval hotel rooms to placing weapons of mass destruction in the hands of religious zealots might seem rather a long one. But Mikey Weinstein, a former US Air Force captain who set up the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), argues with passion that both things are undesirable for the same reason, and both need to be opposed in the same spirit. His watchdog and campaign group has set itself the task of challenging a new variety of fundamentalism which it says is afoot in the services. It insists that America’s armed forces, like every other form of state authority, must be religiously neutral in accordance with the Constitution.

One of the latest battles joined by the MRFF, and several other lobby groups, concerned the practice of leaving Bibles supplied by the Gideons, a charity which encourages the study of scripture, inside rooms in lodgings run by the navy. About a month ago, it emerged that Gideon Bibles had been removed from at least 3,000 rooms in navy lodges in response to secularist complaints. That in turn triggered massive protests from Christian and conservative lobby groups, and the Bibles were duly returned to the rooms. Mr Weinstein was disappointed: he insists that there is a real difference between making religious material available upon request at a registration desk, and placing such material—whether it be Christian, Muslim or even atheist—inside rooms. In his view, the latter practice indicates that the powers that be have taken the side of a particular religion, which the First Amendment forbids.

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