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Following is a recent comment from Mikey Weinstein, the much-embattled leader of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). The MRFF's mission is to protect the right of all U.S. citizens in the military to be free from officially-sponsored religious solicitation, as the U.S. Constitution maintains, particularly that solicitation coming from the men and women who choose to serve in the unique role of military chaplains:

military chaplains

“[Military] chaplains have a Facebook (FB) page whereon they can do all the praying and lecturing and teaching and enlightening they'd like. But that's a separate page from that of the unit leader or commanding officer which is also the actual main FB page of the military installation . The commander’s (or main installation’s) FB page may not be used to promote one particular belief system over others (or even non-faith belief systems) because doing so amounts to government endorsement of a particular faith and violates the separation of church and state.”

It could not be any clearer than that. And yet, under the fervent, proselytizing leadership of men like Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Mark Esper, Michael Pompeo, a host of Christian fundamentalist military generals and admirals, and a horde of fundamentalist military chaplains, added to the money-hungry priests of proselytization like Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, and John Hagee, this clear Constitutional principle is being violated every day, throughout the ranks of the U.S. military.

It is being violated even in the throes of the present pandemic, when one would think that the good order and discipline of a much-beleaguered military would be paramount. It illustrates how little such people as these “Preachers for Jesus” really care about American national security or the lives and good health of the men and women who go in harm's way to ensure it.

The good order and discipline of the military is why a courageous Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, General David H. Berger, just issued a directive banning the Confederate flag from anything remotely official – “public display,” as the General's directive couched it – in the Marine Corps. Something as divisive and representative of hateful racism as that flag – and I'm a southerner, born in South Carolina, and I feel that way because for 31 years I was a soldier and know full well what sort of divisiveness such symbols cause – is certainly not conducive to high morale and unit cohesion in the military; rather it is hugely disruptive and demoralizing. As the Commandant said, the Confederate flag “had the power to inflame division,” and he is most certainly correct.

By the same reasoning, military chaplains must, by the principle of their own corps within the military, keep their activities on their own “sites” whether they be physical churches and chapels or social media and the Internet. They must not put their fundamentalist, proselytizing messages on their military commander’s/main installation's sites or on social media associated with the secular leadership or the official chain of command – because that infers official government endorsement of their particular views or religion. These chaplains may surely post videos on their commander’s/installation’s main FB site, but only if their messages are secular, inclusive and not sectarian. And many are complying and doing just that, but not the fundamentalist Christian chaplains.

It is so simple, so easy to comply with the rules, to stay in step with the Constitution. So why do some of these military chaplains and such people in general not adhere to the rules?

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The old image of every soldier, on bended knee, in a circle of his or her fellow soldiers, mesmerized and perhaps even comforted by the recitation of the Christian Lord's Prayer, is an image of a bygone era.

First, it is not your Daddy's and your Mama's military any longer. These proselytizing chaplains and other fundamentalist military officers and civilian preachers know that. They hate it. They want to change it. Their idea of a perfect military, as one of their particularly virulent sects, the Dominionists, puts it, is a military that fights solely for Jesus, indeed that belongs to Jesus. But today, about one-quarter of the troops identify with no particular religion, or profess not to be religious at all. Many are not Christian, be they Jewish, Muslim, or Jedi Knights. The old image of every soldier, on bended knee, in a circle of his or her fellow soldiers, mesmerized and perhaps even comforted by the recitation of the Christian Lord's Prayer, is an image of a bygone era. Imagine what a Muslim-American soldier feels when compelled to listen to a fundamentalist military chaplain trying to recruit him. Imagine what a Jewish-American soldier feels. Or an atheist or agnostic soldier.

Second, even with the first point clearly understood, the great majority of the troops reaching out to the MRFF when their chains of command are unresponsive regarding these matters, are Christian. In fact, about 95 percent are. They understand the divisiveness and turmoil created by Christian proselytization and want it to stop. They know that such “solicitation for Jesus” means that should they go into combat, the unity of their squad, platoon, or company will be badly disrupted, a unity that is critical to their survival and to the successful accomplishment of their mission. It's a matter of life and death and has very little if anything to do with whose religion is right or not. Frankly, most of them don't give a damn.

And lastly, of course, it is a clear violation of the Constitution that each and every soldier has taken an oath to support and defend. Freedom of religion – meaning freedom to have no religion at all too – is the reason that many of our Founding Fathers, including James Madison, objected to having any military chaplains at all in the Revolutionary Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. But the 1770s were different times, simpler times when most Americans who did have some religion were largely Christian, and so those Founders who objected gave in to General Washington who wisely enough knew he needed every possible assistance he could get to defeat Britain, the greatest empire on earth. As the General himself put it, a nod from “Divine Providence” would not hurt, and if military chaplains could help gain such a nod, he was all for it.

Today is a very long way from the myth of Washington's bent knee at Valley Forge. Yet there is still no objection to that bent knee, be it Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, or whatever. That is a tradition protected for those more than two centuries by the principle of freedom of religion guaranteed by our Constitution and the blood that has been expended to defend it.

Today it is time to rid ourselves of the influence of the Trumps, Pences, Espers, Pompeos, and all of their “C Street” disciples. They are all historic relics yearning for the End Times, for the Rapture, so that they all can be arbitrary, authoritarian kings. I suspect strongly that were they to actually meet the Jesus Christ to whom my sainted grandmother introduced me some seventy years ago, they would not even recognize him, let alone accept him in “their kingdom.”

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson

Today, most of us would rather be just human beings, free to worship or not to worship as we choose, as our Founders intended. And to keep the nation going, not stop it in some apocryphal End Times, no matter how rapturous. In fact, in these pandemic times it seems utterly essential that we be so.

Lawrence Wilkerson

Lawrence Wilkerson (Colonel, U.S. Army - retired) is a Member of the Advisory Board of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), Visiting Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William and Mary, and former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell