May 092010

When US military members put on the uniform, they immediately become ambassadors of their particular service and the United States of America.  To the general public, most military members look the same.  Some have stripes, some have silver or brass on their shoulders, and others even wear religious symbols, but they all fight for the freedom of others and for the most part; they all follow the same rules.  

Being a military member of over 14 years myself, I can remember countless briefings where my leaders told all of us in the room that our actions reflect not only upon ourselves, but they reflect upon our particular service and upon the United States of America.  We’re also constantly reminded about the oath we gave to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and to obey the orders of those appointed over us, but I don’t recall repeating anything regarding religion or spirituality in any of the oaths I’ve taken.  So why is it that we so often turn a blind eye when it comes to religious matters and our Chaplains?   

Most of our Chaplains are great and are known from providing spiritual guidance, counseling, and even fighting for the religious freedoms of others.  I commend them for doing those things, but I also have a problem with other things they do; like giving invocations at public events.  Chaplains wear the uniform as well and when they give invocations, they “imply government endorsed religion”, which is against the guidelines that they’re supposed to be following.  Like the rest of us, Chaplains are ambassadors as well and should be treated as such.  If military members can’t protest in uniform or “speak freely” about their leaders, then Chaplains shouldn’t be allowed to proselytize and push their beliefs upon others by preaching and praying to audiences made up of people who aren’t there to be preached to.  

Many Chaplains say the First Amendment of the US Constitution protects their right to worship and pray.  I agree, but not when their beliefs envade my own.  When I attend an awards ceremony or graduation, that is not a time that I want to be preached to.  I prefer to practice my spirituality amongst people who share my beliefs, not a room full of people made up of various or no spiritual beliefs.  Invocations at military events destroy the concept of “Separation of Church and State” and should not be how we operate in the US armed forces.  Presidents of the United States offer moments of silence (not prayers) at times of tragedy and Chaplains should do the same.  And do we really need a moment of silence before a graduation or awards ceremony?

  13 Responses to “Invocations in the Military”

  1. As a Canadian soldier (88-93, and again 2008-present) I have encountered some of the same issues. Our Remembrance ceremony is sacred without priests, and having some civilian cleric take advantage of a captive audience and dishonour the memory of those who offered their lives to defend the freedoms the priest is now abusing angers me deeply. Standing at attention while some cleric takes the blood of our fallen comrades and attempts to tell us that they are nothing but pale copies of the the sacrifice of his pet demigod Jesus is an insult to every fallen soldier, to every surviving family member, to every single service man or woman.
    Our best and brightest take up the service of arms in defense of the folk that we may be free to worship or not as we choose. To have their sacrifice be cheapened and co-opted by those who then fight the right of our fallen comrades to be buried under the signs that they worshiped under is sickening. I have heard priests telling me that there are no atheists in foxholes, and that I would abandon my false gods when faced with death. This is either amusing or insulting coming from a civilian who has never heard a shot fired in anger.
    We are brothers and sisters under arms, a kinship made sacred by our shared oath to offer our lives and sacred honour in the service of our folk. The blessing of no god is required to make this sacred, and the naming of one man or womans god that excludes others of our sworn brethren is sacrilege. When we stand under our colours, national or regimental, it is to that shared authority we make our pledges, to the Queen and Parliament, to the President and Constitution. While my gods called me to the service of my folk, I would never be so rude a host or guest as to demand my brothers in arms set aside or dishonour their own gods to keep their oaths of service.

    • You are so full of crap! I have been crouched in harbors with people shooting at us from all different directions, and looking over I could hear among the rapid fire, I guy I barely knew firing back while praying out loud. Scared to death, possibly looking at it in the face, he says a prayer…he’s also in uniform, we all are, and sure we represent our country; ambassadors maybe, warriors certainly. My belief like my uniform is mine. I don’t ask you to like it or believe it, but you will sure as heck respect it…or climb out of my foxhole!

  2. If the moment of silence is a reminder that the graduates/etc stand on the shoulders of their brethren past, then I think it’s got merit. As President Lincoln said, “… we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.” That goes not just for a plot of land but for personal dedications and celebration. I hope we all can agree on that, even if it involves inevitable personal caveats that anyone is welcome to tack on, as long as those explanations and refinements are kept to themselves and not thrust upon a captive audience.

    • A moment of silence should suffice, since people can choose how they wish to reflect any way they like. Why is that such a problem? People really need to take a second look at KISS:



  3. I’m in absolute agreement — chaplains in uniform should not be officiating at any sort of public prayer service. I do believe it violates the establishment of religion clause. Personally, I’m in favor of abolishing all public prayer at government functions of any sort. If people want to pray, they can do it themselves or in their churches, synagogues, circles, groves, and temples.

    • Unfortunately, you’re about as stupid as people come…. A chaplain doesn’t violate “church and state”, they aren’t “establishing” any religion. My God, Americans have become so ignorant of the intent of the “establishment” clause by bastardization of the judicial system that they no longer understand that it was intended to SIMPLY prevent the federal government from creating a state run religion that England has. The seperation of God from Country is the result of humanist idiots like yourself.

  4. I think chaplains have done some very good service over the years, standing in for the religious comforts of home for many servicemen. But I also feel that has changed over the last 20 years or so, and that too many of the military chaplains now are pressuring changes in religious affiliation and dedication. I have read some horrible stories about chaplains riding around in military vehicles in Afghanistan with big lit-up crosses mounted—that is certainly the wrong kind of ambassadorship! Unfortunately, America, military, political, and civil seems to be bowing to the noisy right-wing minority of Christianity and this only gives more power to the current push to make the US military “God’s Army.” This violation of the spirit AND letter of the Constitution is why I vigorously support the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

  5. As someone who works with chaplains and who personally endeavors to *become* a chaplain…I have a pretty middle-of-the-road stance on this.

    I don’t think it’s wrong to have a moment of silence. I actually think that’s a nice compromise – not to mention, a moment of silence can serve to focus the attention of the people present at a ceremony, give those who desire it a chance to center their thoughts/etc, and leaves it open for silent consecration to the individual.

    I think that there are some ceremonies in the military that are sacred and that should be officiated by chaplains. However…I would also agree that chaplains should steer clear of naming God. A moment of silence would suffice and perhaps some inspirational, non-religious-specific words. I’ve worked with chaplains (two American Baptists – active duty Navy – and a Lutheran – CA National Guard) who did just that. So, there IS hope out there, in the Chaplain Corps…I have observed a trend, during my work with the chaplaincy (both as an assistant and as a military journalist) that there are those who refrain from bringing God into prayer outside of their own services. I say, kudos to them! And I feel that this is a trend that should be encouraged – a moment of silence, to respect the occasion, over a preachy prayer that may offend.

  6. I actually don’t mind honest prayers by Chaplains, whether they name a Deity specifically or not. What bothers me are the sermons disguised as prayers often used in invocations by some Chaplains.

    I will say, however, that most of the Chaplains Ive known have refrained from using any words more specific than “Our Lord” or “God” once they knew that there were Pagans around.

  7. “Sermons disguised as prayers”. Well said!

  8. [...] at Warriors & Kin they’ve explored homecomings, digging up details regarding OPSEC rules, invocations in the military, and an in-depth review of “War and the Soul: Healing Our Nation’s Veterans from [...]

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