Religion in Society

FFRF Asks Gates to Enforce Secularism in Military

| by FFRF

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a state/church watchdog, sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, taking the Army to task for scheduling a proselytizing Christian prayer at the commemoration of D-Day in France on June 6.
Wrote Foundation Co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor:

"[U.S. Army Chaplain (Col.) Thomas] MacGregor's prayer, invoking Jesus and core fundamentalist Christian dogma, overstepped the decorum required of military chaplains speaking to general audiences." (View video of prayer - quicktime player required).

Gaylor urged Gates to issue "new and firm guidelines for every branch of the U.S. military, making it clear that military chaplains and military staff may not abuse their positions to proselytize, recruit for religion or promote sectarian doctrine on military time."

Gaylor noted that MacGregor recited part of the Lord's Prayer and that his prayer (Read transcript) was peppered with many Christian references, such as his remark: "Help each of us to look ahead to that grand and glorious day when you shall return, the dead shall be raised, loved ones be rejoined once again and all wars shall cease. Oh God, speed the day of your coming, we ask."

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Gaylor called MacGregor's message "inappropriate," "primitive" and "embarrassing," and said that it was "the height of incivility for a chaplain, in the name of U.S. citizens, to inflict a sectarian and exclusionary prayer upon an international audience."

"While MacGregor has the right to believe anything he likes, he should not have the power to preach his personal and divisive religious polemics as an official representative of the U.S. military at public functions," Gaylor said, adding she was troubled by his apparent belief that war will only end with the "Second Coming."

"Not only were there many 'atheists in foxholes' serving in the U.S. military during World War II (contrary to the myth), but today secularism is at an all-time high in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and in France," Gaylor wrote Gates. "Imposition of a religious ritual upon a diverse audience is an unenlightened anachronism that reflects badly on our pluralistic country, especially as it was founded upon a godless and entirely secular Constitution."

The Foundation also objected to gratuitous religious references on the goarmy.com website used to recruit chaplains, including a statement that U.S. chaplains are "endowed by" and "led by the God that they serve."

"Many wars and much mayhem and misery have been wrought by fanatics who were sure they were 'endowed' and 'led' by a deity," Gaylor pointed out.

A cover letter expressing "deep disappointment" over the D-Day misstep, with a copy of the letter to Secretary Gates, was sent to the President, who was present during the invocation, and who bowed his head and "amen'ed" at its conclusion. Also sent copies were Secretary of the Army Peter Green, Office of the Chief of Chaplains and Jonathan Frusti, executive director, Armed Forces Chaplain Board.

Thanks to an FFRF member for bringing this violation to our attention.