Army shouldn’t play show-and-tell concerning religion

Jerry Moore

Watertown — In reading their essays, it doesn’t take long to figure out where some writers stand on the removal last month of several videos posted on a social media platform representing Fort Drum soldiers.

U.S. Army Maj. Scott Ingram and Capt. Amy Smith, two chaplains who serve on the post, put two videos each onto the official Facebook page of the 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade. Eight soldiers expressed their objections to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which contacted Fort Drum leadership and requested the videos be removed. The MRFF said the videos violated the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause.

Mikey Weinstein, MRFF’s founder and president, called them “illicit proselytizing videos” that should not have been posted to “the official command Facebook page of the 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade.” Fort Drum leaders deemed the videos inappropriate and ordered them to be removed.

Chris Rodda, MRFF’s senior research director, made an interesting point in an article published April 20 by DailyKos.com. She wrote: “The Fort Drum Chapel Facebook page has only 348 followers. The Facebook page of Fort Drum’s 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade has 7,828 followers. If you were a chaplain bent on proselytizing, which page would you want your videos on? You’d want those 7,828 soldiers and family members to get your message to ‘walk with God’ while ‘asking God, where are you, where are you in the midst of this COVID-19?’ Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation has been seeing an uptick in a particular type of complaint — overt proselytizing videos on official military Facebook pages.”

Chaplains in the armed forces have a job to do, and the novel coronavirus pandemic has everyone worried. So it’s understandable that ministers will use whatever assets they have available to reach out to military personnel.

But the MRFF raised a valid point about where these videos appeared. To the extent that it’s proper for the government to dedicate resources for spiritual purposes, it’s vital that this not be construed as an endorsement of any religious beliefs. So the Fort Drum Chapel Facebook page would have been a better spot for these videos rather than the site for the 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade.

However, not everyone agrees with this assessment.

“The U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade has acquiesced to demands from a secular advocacy group to remove prayer videos by its chaplains from the brigade’s main Facebook page,” wrote Calvin Freiburger on Monday in a post for LifeSiteNews.com. “Claiming to have received complaints about the videos from eight active-duty soldiers in the Division, the so-called Military Religious Freedom Foundation sent a complaint demanding that the ‘illicit proselytizing videos’ be removed from the main page (which has more than 7,800 followers) and relegated to the Fort Hill Chapel Facebook page (which has fewer than 400). … The MRFF is most well-known for pressuring the U.S. military to quash benign, non-coercive expressions of faith. It has taken credit for getting Bibles removed from Missing Man Tables across the country, demanded punishment for chaplains who wore their uniforms to an event hosted by a religious liberty group and agitated for heavy restrictions on proselytizing by military chaplains.”

Catholic League President Bill Donohue commented: “Weinstein complained to officers of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, and they yielded. Yet they had no need to — they were deceived by the false arguments made by Weinstein. There is nothing ‘illicit’ about the mere invocation of God by military chaplains. Had an atheist religion-hating member of the armed forces posted a video on Facebook celebrating Lucifer, Weinstein would have defended it as freedom of speech. Military chaplains do not lose their twin First Amendment rights of freedom of religion and freedom of speech by posting religious commentary on a private media outlet. Moreover, the separation of church and state provision of the First Amendment only applies to what government cannot do. Every president, acting as commander in chief, has invoked God, beginning with George Washington. To say that military chaplains have no right to identify themselves as officers when they engage in religious commentary is to say they have no public right to exercise their freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Only fascists think this way.”

In an April 24 blog post on Patheos.com, Bethany Blankley wrote: “Facebook has been censoring for a while, no longer allowing free speech, and targeting Christians specifically. This time, they took down U.S. Army chaplain’s messages of encouragement to viewers. Four recent videos involving chaplains posting messages were taken down after a complaint was filed stating that the messages ironically violated the First Amendment, the very amendment that protects such speech.”

Writing April 25 for the Washington Sentinel, Warner Todd Huston proclaimed: “Facebook has removed several prayers posted by several chaplains in the U.S. Army after a Christian-hating group complained that they represented ‘illicit proselytizing’ of Christianity. Facebook removed four videos recorded by chaplains Capt. Amy Smith and Maj. Scott Ingram which had been posted to the Facebook page of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade at Fort Drum, New York. Facebook moved to delete the ‘offensive’ prayers after the anti-Christian group Military Religious Freedom Foundation demanded that the social media giant remove them. The group falsely claimed that the videos were a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. … The Constitution gives us all freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion.”

To correct claims by both Blankley and Huston, Facebook did not remove these videos. They were taken down by members of the Fort Drum command team.

Donohue was mistaken by claiming that the videos appeared on “a private media outlet.” This is the official Facebook page for the 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade, which is a public entity and represents all its members — many of whom are not religious.

Donohue wrote that “the separation of church and state provision of the First Amendment only applies to what government cannot do.” Yes! And it prohibits the government from endorsing any religious beliefs.

For Huston to write, “The Constitution gives us all freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion,” is to misunderstand its meaning. There is no such thing as freedom of religious if we can’t choose freedom from religion.

Governments that favor some religious expressions over others will ultimately discriminate against those who do not share these views. So to enforce the separation of church and state, it’s essential for the government to take an agnostic stance on the matter.

That’s what the U.S. Constitution does. We know this is true because some of the most vocal opponents to our nation’s charter when it was first proposed were Christians. They denounced it as a godless document that left spiritual questions to be decided by private citizens for themselves.

The MRFF was justified in objecting to the placement of these videos on the 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade’s Facebook page. This doesn’t address all the problems that result from the government’s improper flirtation with religion, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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(15) comments

Holmes

The religion problem of the left on full display. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) is once again creating a problem where none exists. The Army stricken with morale and readiness problems, it is also under attack from leftist social engineers who are determined to remake the Army, even if they have to destroy it. Last time I checked, a military chaplain’s primary function is to provide religious services and counseling, which inevitably means informing fellow service members of updates regarding faith-related subjects. However, it seems like the MRFF has invented a “mythical” version of the Constitution where chaplains are in violation of the law for…doing their job. Contrary to what the MRFF portrays, Christianity isn’t being forced upon any service member. If they elect to seek out a chaplain’s service, military policy allows them to choose one whose religious tradition best matches their own.

hermit thrush

at first i didn't see how anyone could write something which so mindlessly fails to address the particular circumstances addressed in the column, but then i discovered it's plagiarized. https://firstliberty.org/news/navy-chaplain-accused/

Holmes -- the real one

Thanks for clearing that up. I was scratching my head wondering on that one too.

Probably Obama's fault.

rockloper

[thumbup]

keyser soze

Nice catch Hermit!!

Geez, talk about being lazy. At the very least, FAKE Holmes could have taken a moment or two to ‘generalize’ the content of the article and convey it in his own words. Oh that’s right, I nearly forgot… Trump Cultists are programmed as party line stooges and therefore are incapable of independent thinking.

Nevermind.

rockloper

[thumbup]

Nice_Commenter

“The Left’s” main problem with religion is not dying of laughter every time a Republican says they believe in God. I would love to know what God that is. Jesus loves AK-47’s and Trump’s gold toilet.

rockloper

[thumbup]

rdsouth

When I heard about this incident I wondered how much of it is a false flag attack. I mean, doesn't it put the chaplains in the position of presenting themselves as victims? For that matter, how about the pushing of the dichotomy of atheism and doctrinally correct traditional religion? If you aren't going to believe correctly they would prefer you to not believe anything at all. And they hide this with their straw boogie man of satanism as somehow having something to do with atheism. This is a string of bait so that if you leave them you go somewhere they control. Above all, there is no place for heterodox ideas or open minds, you have to travel the highway straight from the closed mind of faith to the closed mind of rejecting anything spiritual, or the mirror image of standard belief, a derivative reversal in every detail yet somehow supposedly also atheistic in nature and thus also safely closed minded. Far from wanting to bring people closer to God they want to set up a monopoly on access.

Holmes -- the real one

Good, thought provoking comment.

hermit thrush

good column.

rockloper

Religion has a way of advancing mission creep. First they stick their toe in and if no objection they continue until they're up to their neck. It's especially bad in the south where they con people into thinking divine creation is actual science. It isn't hard to understand why agnostic atheists want to squash the bug before it gets too far. Everybody is an atheist, it's just that some of us take it one god further.

Holmes -- the real one

"I ain't afraid of your Bible

I ain't afraid of your Torah

I ain't afraid of your Koran

Don't let the letter of the law obscure the spirit of your love

It's killing us"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxlpKZw_7wU

rockloper

Wow, that's a powerful bunch of kids - beautiful.

Holmes -- the real one

My favorite line is:

The ones that say they know it are the ones that will impose it on you.

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