(name withheld), I apologize to both you and Mikey for coming to the game a little late. Too many honey-do’s today in the perfect Colorado weather.
I’ll try to address a few of your points. I think they should be obvious with a little research and objective thought, but that’s clearly not true.
Let’s start by doing a little thought exercise. Let’s just pretend that you belong to a minority belief group or you’re an Atheist. In other words, you are NOT a mainstream evangelical, fundamentalist Christian. Let’s think about how your career might’ve gone and some of the challenges you might’ve faced. Let’s say your commander not just asked WHERE you went to church on Sunday’s, but routinely invited you to go to HIS church. What if, at every unit event you attended, there was a distinctly Christian invocation or benediction and all were expected to ACT Christian. Sure, there were probably a couple of Jews in the room or even a Roman Catholic or Mormon that didn’t quite match-up well with the prayer style, but they were still more or less “people of the book,” and tolerated or even seen as targets for conversion. There might be an Atheist in the room, but they sure as hell didn’t state that publicly and knew how to get along by playing along. Now, as the minority believer, you don’t want to convert, but you also want to be promoted and progress in your career, so you feel like you, too, have to play along and tolerate the ASSUMPTION that all are believers of the commander’s faith tradition because he has made it clear through his actions that those that believe as he does get the better promotion and efficiency ratings.
My guess is that, if you’re capable of really imagining yourself in that scenario, you wouldn’t like it too much. I’d also bet that, in your career, you WEREN’T in that situation (I could be wrong here). I bring this up because Mikey and his father and several of his children have been exactly in that situation over many years. I, too, was in that situation for my 41 years in uniform and 37 on active duty. Both of my sons were in that same situation. My son was punished at the US Air Force Academy–a stone’s throw from Monument–for NOT attending voluntary Bible Study during Basic Training and then ORDERED to march on the Terrazzo at USAFA with his fellow non-compliant basic cadets in a formation known as “Heathen Flight.” Seriously.
Personally, I had to “play along” for many, many years until I achieved O-6 and then, within my organizations, I stopped all invocations at official, mandatory events and directed all to leave any religious (or political or sexual) discussions out of the workplace and made it known that I did not want to know my subordinates’ religious beliefs and would not evaluate them on their beliefs so long as they didn’t bring them into the office.
I was, however, deeply discriminated against once achieving O-6 because, by that point, I’d more or less come out as a supporter of the MRFF.
That’s kind of a long way around saying that one particular religious perspective should not be a necessary or sufficient condition for military service and NO ONE should presume that just because someone is serving in the military, they are Christian, or even religious at all. It simply shouldn’t matter. We know it shouldn’t matter because we’ve had heroes of almost every conceivable religious persuasion in our military serving honorably for many, many decades — even centuries.
Is the MRFF anti-religion? No. The MRFF is anti-bias and anti-coercion. In my private life, I don’t expect freedom FROM religion–I drive by churches every day, I see “In God We Trust” unconstitutionally on our currency, and I still hear distinctly Christian prayers at too many public and government events. That’s all part of freedom of religion, if IMHO, it’s taken too far and still “assumed” by too many. But, in my workplace, especially a military workplace where there is a hierarchy, power, career control, AND lethality, I do expect freedom FROM religion. I expect it to NOT be a factor in ANY official part of my job. If my friend wants to have an invocation at her retirement, I’m cool with that. If she wants to start our staff meetings with a prayer, that’s too far. If she asks me if or where I attend church, that’s none of her fucking business.
So, why should the MRFF worry about a Boy Scout project in some little berg in Colorado? There are several reasons. First, the memorial was originally placed on PUBLICLY owned land at the city’s public cemetery–it became private property as a (probably illegal) move to sell the tiny plot to the Scout’s family as a workaround. It was sold without competing bids and no one except the family and the city council had any insight into the transaction or ability to buy their own similar plot or outbid the family for that specific plot.
Secondly, the Scout used officially, legally trademarked symbols of the military services without seeking permission to do so. You can buy items with those symbols, but you can’t just use them anywhere you want–the DoD has very specific guidance about that (e.g., using the Marine Corps emblem at a Nazi rally or selling shirts with it next to a swastika would be illegal. Putting it on a marble cross and selling the cross (or Star of David or Crescent) would be illegal, too, because the services don’t allow people to make a commercial profit whilst conflating a service’s symbol with some sectarian symbol or item leading to the impression that the two entities were one and the same or somehow in official cahoots (i.e., in a theocratic sense). The Scout did NOT ask for nor obtain permission to use the emblems, He just did it (innocently, I’m sure) and no adult provided him with any guidance.
Most egregiously, though, in a public setting, the Scout stated on his memorial that the only two people that have ever sacrificed their life for we citizens of the US are Jesus Christ and the US service member.
I don’t doubt that he believes that. You may, too. Do I believe that? Not in the slightest.
First, there are a lot of other people that have risked and lost their lives for our nation than just members of the military–the memorial slights their service and sacrifice.
Secondly, I never served because of any sense of religious duty or even a sense of sacrifice to do so–and I’m sure thousands upon thousands of others are similar to me.
Thirdly, it’s a PUBLIC cemetery, so putting a distinctly religious memorial in a public area (before the hidden sale) implied that the city government agreed with this distinctly Christian perspective, thus endorsing religion in contradiction with our Constitution’s Establishment Clause.
Going back to my earlier hypothetical, how would your family feel if you (as, presumably a Christian) were buried in a local public cemetery and a local Scout, with the endorsement of the city council and funding from many local leaders erected a memorial at the entry to the cemetery saying “Allahu Akbar! Blessed Be the Martyrs of our US Military That Are Buried Here. They Served the Prophet Well, Blessed Be His Name!” If I walked into that cemetery, I’d probably presume that it was a Muslim cemetery and that all of the service members buried there were Muslim. If that already existed at your local cemetery where you’d made plans to have your remains interred, might that change your mind a little bit? What if, after causing a stir, the city council just sold that little plot of land to the local Imam, under the table without telling anyone, and you and your family still had to walk past it at the entrance whenever you entered the cemetery? Some might not feel all that included and welcome, right?
So, what should happen here? Clearly the sale was illegal. It should be voided immediately. The Scout isn’t at fault here–his Scout leadership and the city’s leaders are. They should know better. A clearly divisive and sectarian memorial illegally using trademarked service emblems doesn’t belong at the entrance to a public ANYTHING. Could you put the same thing in front of a church or on truly private property without a problem? Absolutely, so long as the city isn’t paying for its upkeep. So, the answer isn’t to put the Scout in jail or to destroy his project, but to put it in an appropriate location and use it as a teaching moment for all involved. I’m sure there are churches that would love to have the memorial. If there’s a private cemetery that would like to have it, that’s fine, too–it may bring in business, while it may chase off others potential “patrons.”
The MRFF’s role in this then is to highlight the unconstitutionality of the whole affair because it affects those that have served in the military (or will serve). The MRFF isn’t calling for the destruction of the memorial or punishment of the Scout, but rather that the city of Monument act in accordance with the Constitutional principles under which you and I (and virtually all of my family and Mikey’s) took an oath to support and defend. Whether the whole matter qualifies as a “wretched, unconstitutional dumpster fire,” is a matter of opinion. Those are Mikey’s words. I would have chosen other ones, all the while completely agreeing that the entire affair runs contrary to our Constitution in an obvious and egregious manner.
You’re very welcome to have your own personal, strongly-held religious views, as is the Scout, his family, and all of the INDIVIDUAL members of the military and the Monument City Council. But, NONE of us can impose our religious views (legally) as part of the federal or a local government.
Wow, that was long, but I hope this was clear. Please let me know if you have any questions or in what way you may disagree with my explanation.
Brigadier General, USAF (Retired)
MRFF Advisory Board Member