Selected Article Excerpts:
- The splendid university where I’ve been privileged to spend the past semester proudly proclaims its commitment to “God, Country, Notre Dame” and means what it says. If not identical, God’s purposes and America’s purposes are at least compatible and Notre Dame firmly supports both.Mark me down as skeptical. The older I get the more I’m inclined to see the melding of God and country as not such a good idea. God can speak for himself, but I don’t think the merger serves the country’s interests.My skepticism has nothing to do with Notre Dame, but with my own alma mater, West Point, where a cadet within a few months of graduation recently chose to resign in protest of what he sees as institutionalized religiosity. The First Amendment prohibits the establishment of a state religion. The United States Military Academy is certainly an organ of the state. Cadet Blake Page argues that authorities at West Point are promoting religion (especially evangelical Christianity), thereby violating his constitutional rights.
- The case also has attracted the sympathetic attention of my friend Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein. Mikey is the founder and principal proprietor of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Devoted to getting the United States military out of the business of religious proselytizing, the MRFF seeks to protect the rights of uniformed personnel (like Blake Page) who are not religious, along with the rights of those who may be religious but don’t cotton to anyone interfering with how they practice their faith.I am speculating, of course, but Mikey may well be what God had in mind when he referred to the Israelites as a “stiff-necked people.” I expect that God meant no disrespect to his Chosen People and I certainly intend none to Mikey. Yet he qualifies as one of the feistiest, toughest, and most pugnacious people I have ever met. It’s impossible to imagine Mikey backing away from a fight that he thinks worth fighting. Ranking near the top of what’s worth fighting for, in his view, is the Constitution of the United States, not least of all the First Amendment. So Mikey is squarely in Blake Page’s corner.Mikey got into this business when evidence surfaced that his alma mater, the United States Air Force Academy, had become a hotbed of Christian evangelicalism, with cadets who hadn’t yet found Jesus being pressured to get with the program. Mikey was tipped off by an impeccable source—his own son, then a USAFA cadet, who was being pressured to convert, with academy authorities either actively complicit or turning a blind eye. In getting Mikey riled up, USAFA and the Air Force made a very big mistake. In what turned out to be the first of many fights, Mikey, who happens to be a very skillful lawyer, went after them hammer and tong.
- As a believer myself who was once a soldier and who commanded soldiers, I would not want the dividing line between faith and military life to be too sharp. Let me concede that making religion available to soldiers while still respecting the non-establishment clause of the First Amendment poses a bit of a puzzle. So there has to be some sort of line, sufficiently visible for commanders to distinguish between what’s permissible and what’s not. In the past, the line was so blurry as to be indistinct. With some embarrassment, I can recall hosting “prayer breakfasts” at which attendance of subordinates was “expected” and therefore informally coerced. What was I thinking? That said, we want to don’t chase away the chaplains.Yet beyond the military realm, the ongoing debate that Mikey is promoting raises questions that call for especially serious reflection. It’s we believers who are not soldiers who ought to reflect. After all, when agents of the state promote religiosity, their primary interest is not necessarily saving souls. Throughout history, states have employed religion to advance their own purposes, which they routinely insist coincide with God’s own. Religion thereby becomes an adjunct of state power. Gott Mit Uns, as it were.