Americans United for Separation of Church and State today asked the Senate Armed Services Committee to question U.S. Rep. John M. McHugh about his views on religious liberty and the rights of religious minorities.
McHugh, who currently represents New York’s 23rd District in the House of Representatives, has been nominated by President Barack Obama to be the Secretary of the Army. His confirmation hearing is tomorrow.
Americans United says McHugh has a troubling record when it comes to separation of church and state.
“As a member of the House, McHugh repeatedly voted for or cosponsored proposals that would undermine the wall of separation between church and state,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “We must have assurances that as Secretary of the Army, he will support the rights of men and women of all faiths and none.”
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In a letter sent to the Senate Armed Services Committee today, Americans United notes that in 2005, McHugh voted against a measure designed to ensure religious tolerance in the military by opposing coercive forms of proselytization by chaplains.
The letter, drafted by AU Legislative Director Aaron Schuham, points out that McHugh has shown hostility toward church-state separation in other contexts. As a member of the House, he cosponsored a bill to allow government-sponsored prayer in public schools and voted to allow government buildings and public schools to display the Ten Commandments.
In addition, McHugh has voted to allow tax-exempt houses of worship to endorse political candidates and to support the practice of government-funded religious discrimination in social service programs.
“Rep. McHugh has a dubious record when it comes to church-state separation and protecting religious liberty for adherents of minority religions or no religion at all,” reads the AU letter. “His positions suggest that he may not oppose the endorsement of a specific religious belief or religious coercion in the Army.”
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AU’s letter notes that religiously based tensions have rocked the military in recent years, and some high-ranking officials have been accused of showing favoritism to evangelical Christianity.
Remarked Lynn, “The reality is that today’s military includes Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Wiccans, atheists and others. McHugh’s voting record makes me wonder if he appreciates the crucial role church-state separation plays in protecting the rights of every soldier.
“The committee has an obligation to question McHugh about these matters,” Lynn continued. “They are essential to the smooth functioning of our military.”