Religion

Mike,
Have a Happy Thanksgiving and a Merry Christmas (I had to say that).  Something to think about: one of the definitions of religion, according to Merriam Webster is “an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group”.  Is atheism a religion?  By not allowing any Christian or Jewish or Muslim symbols on public property, aren’t you promoting the religion of atheism?  Just for thought.

(name withheld)


 

Good Day, (name withheld) –

Thanks for taking the time to write to the MRFF and ask your question. Mikey Weinstein has read your email and asked me to respond on behalf of the organization.  In addition to being a staunch MRFF supporter, I’m also a lifelong, committed and active Christian, a USAF Academy graduate (’85) and a veteran USAF officer.
I think your question is an important one because it points to a fundamental misunderstanding of the MRFF and our mission. We don’t oppose religious symbols on public property — not only is that an oversimplification of our focus, it also wrongly presupposes that we are anti-religion.
The MRFF is a Constitutional advocacy group. Our mission is speak on behalf of all members of the United States Armed Forces, so that every soldier, sailor, airman and marine fully receives the Constitutional guarantees of religious freedom to which they and all Americans are entitled by virtue of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Our supporters and our clients represent a broad cross-section of beliefs and non-belief, including many Christians such as me, and people of other faiths, too. We do not advocate or promote any specific religious belief (or non-belief).
When we are approached by a US military member for assistance, our response has nothing to do with the specific beliefs at the heart of the issue, but only considers the constitutionality of the time, place, and manner of the expression of a religious belief (or non-belief).
As I’m sure you well know, the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, as intended by our founders and as consistently interpreted by subsequent generations, proscribes our government from advancing, promoting, or favoring any particular sectarian religious belief.  Said more simply, our governmental institutions must remain objectively neutral with regard to religion.
In our military, this need is even more critical due to the strict, hierarchical nature of military life. Leaders have an incredible amount of power and control over their subordinates, and so they have an equally pronounced obligation to maintain religious neutrality when acting in an official capacity. Sometimes leaders, often with good intentions, will use their position or color of their authority to promote or advance a particular religious belief (or non-belief). When they do that, they have crossed a Constitutional boundary.
The role of the MRFF is to help those ‘out of bounds’ military leaders to get back in line with the Constitution; we are not interested in getting them to align with any particular religious belief (or non-belief). Again, the MRFF’s sole interest is the appropriateness of the time, place, and manner of the promotion of any sectarian religious belief, including non-belief, within the US military.
You may have other questions based upon what I’ve shared. If so, I’m happy to continue this dialogue. Thanks again for your interest in what we do.
Peace,
Mike Challman
Christian, USAF veteran, MRFF supporter

Dear (name withheld),

Merry Christmas to you too!

Atheism is a religion in the same way that off is tv channel and not collecting stamps is a hobby.

As many others tend to do, you have conflated atheism with secularism.  Here’s a simple way to explain the difference:

In a theocracy currency would praise a god.

In an atheist state, currency would state plainly that their are no gods whatsoever.

In a secular state, currency isn’t labeled with any religious perspective or denial of religion because it’s none of the government’s business what people choose to believe or not.

We don’t advocate for an atheist government.  We advocate for a secular government.  Freedom of conscience is a founding principle of this country, and our taxpayers should never be required to pay for any religion’s evangelism.

Cheers,

Blake A. Page
Military Religious Freedom Foundation
Special Assistant to the President
Director of US Army Affairs


Hi (name withheld),

In answer to your question, no we’re not. We’re not promoting any religion or belief system. As the law requires, we’re protecting all belief systems by ensuring that the government does not show or imply support for one belief system over another.

For your information, I suspect atheists consider theirs a belief system, even if it’s about non-belief, and I also suspect they feel their choice is very important to them, so that would fit into the Merriam Webster definition you mention.

But if I correctly deduce that the not-so-hidden implication of your message is that the MRFF and those associated with it are atheists, you’re wrong again.

Sorry, pal. Wrong number. I hope you have a happy Thanksgiving and a Merry Christmas.

Best,

Mike Farrell


Hi Mike,
Happy Thanksgiving day.  You probably won’t read this today but I had a few minutes and thought I would reply.

By not allowing any religious symbols, (the cross on the sign) aren’t you unwittingly “showing or implying support” for atheism?  Shouldn’t all have the freedom to express their beliefs thru symbols or other means, as long as they don’t interfere with the military mission?  Wouldn’t that be true “Freedom of Religion”?

I don’t mean to bother you but since Christianity seems to be coming under attack recently, I feel I must speak out.  You’ve been elected Pal.  I do appreciate hearing from Joan, Blake and Mike Challman also.

What is “'re”?

Thanx

(name withheld)


Hi (name withheld),

No, we’re not showing support for atheism. Atheism means no belief in God, but is a belief system in and of itself. Removing the cross in no way promotes atheism; it removes a particular symbol of a particular faith or belief system and thereby leaves open the determination of belief for each to choose for her or himself.

Hard as it is for some to understand, the U.S. is a secular nation, one that supports all belief systems by not showing favoritism for or promoting any single one. As part of the government, then, the military must adhere to the separation of church and state. The way to do that is to feature, promote or in any way imply preference for no one belief.

An alternative by your standard would be to require that every unit include all symbols of every possible belief system any time they wanted to feature one.

In answer to your other question, all do have the right to express their beliefs in their personal lives. However, under the law and by military regulation, they cannot do so in any official manner in a way that promotes a particular faith or belief system, including atheism.

I suspect, for example, there are Christians who would be uncomfortable if the symbol chosen to represent their unit was a six-pointed star or an artifact of Islam.

As a personal note, I hear a lot about Christianity coming under attack these days and it appears to me to in fact be both an over-reaction and a kind of self-promotion; in some cases it’s a near-hysterical campaign based on nothing but repetition of the charge. It uses silly things like someone expressing a preference for a generic holiday greeting in order to be respectful of those of a different cultural background or belief system as an indication of anti-Christian bias. There is, to my eyes, the implication here of a sort of weird desire to see oneself as being put-upon, a kind of martyr for Christ, I suppose. I think it really suggests a lack of faith on the part of those who are so intent on insisting it exists.

Christ Himself, per my reading, would be bigger than that.

Per your question about 're, I have no idea. It appears to be something a computer might use to replace a punctuation mark or something like that.

Best,

Mike Farrell

(MRFF Board of Advisors)


Mike Farrell,

I thought I was communicating with Mike Weinstein.  Thank you for your response.  I will have to mull it over and get back to you.  One question.  What constitutes a “law respecting an establishment of religion”?

Happy Thanksgiving.

(name withheld)


 

Hi (name withheld),

I’m not a lawyer, but I think the answer to your question is evident within the

wording of the phrase.

Mike Farrell

(MRFF Board of Advisors)

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