Mon Jul 15, 2013
It is important to have good answers to the assertions of the theocratic leaders of the Christian Right. Is the religious liberty of members of the American armed forces under attack as claimed by among others, Tony Perkins and William Boykin of the Family Research Council?
The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance and the Rev. Barry Lynn executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State answered in a commentary at Religion News Service. These longtime proponents of religious liberty say no, there is no threat.
Here are some excerpts:
Let’s be clear: Christians in the military are not under threat of constant, widespread persecution. Existing military regulations are in place to deal with any problems. Many, if not all, of the cases that Perkins cites as attacks on religious freedom are in actuality the opposite — they are actions taken by the military to ensure the religious freedom of everyone.
To give just one example: Perkins complained about the removal of a painting with a Bible quote in the dining hall of Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho. That quote may hold meaning for some, but not all, of the airmen stationed there. Its presence in a chapel during worship would be wholly appropriate, but its placement in a public dining hall is an implicit endorsement of that religious perspective by the base’s military leadership. We doubt Perkins would have been similarly supportive if the base hung up a quotation from the Quran or a comment by a famous atheist.
The religious right has a skewed definition of religious freedom — and their interest lies only in preserving religious freedom for one very specific sectarian point of view. This is not what the Constitution calls for.
Religious freedom is our first freedom, the first clause of the First Amendment. Historically that freedom has been understood to protect an individual’s right to practice their faith freely up until the point where it interferes with someone else’s same right. It has meant that government should strive to stay out of matters of faith — and vice versa — for the better of both institutions.
The far right is making a concerted effort to redefine religious freedom as a catch-all concept that gives "authentic" Christians the right to do what they want, whenever they want, wherever they want. They seek to use positions of authority — including in the military — as platforms to proselytize their faith while seeking to limit the ability of people of other faiths to take a different perspective. When challenged, they present themselves as victims or martyrs and claim the mantle of religious freedom as the ultimate defense.