"When one proudly dons a U.S. Military uniform, there is only one religious symbol: the American flag. There is only one religious scripture: the American Constitution. Finally, there is only one religious faith: American patriotism."
MRFF Founder and President, Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein
MRFF Op-Ed on LA Progressive: “When Military Members Wear Their Religion on Their Sleeve – Literally”
An email received by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) a few days ago began:
“I have spent most of my life in and around the military as a dependent, active duty airmen, Guardsman and as a (USAF job title withheld). I’ve seen countless times where people in leadership roles use their position to advocate their faith, force group prayers, even force church attendance to young and impressionable troops at boot camp.”
Many emails that come in to MRFF express similar personal accounts of what the email writer has seen or experienced regarding the pushing or even forcing of religion on themselves or other military members. Why is this important? Because it explains why so many service members are very sensitive to what might seem like minor things to those on the outside.
A Bible on their commander’s desk; religious language in an official email; a superior inviting them to a Bible study or their church or opening staff meetings with a prayer. What these seemingly little things do is identify their superior as a Christian – and not just a Christian, but a Christian who wants to make sure that everyone else knows they’re a Christian.
And that makes many service members, both non-Christian an even many Christians, uneasy. Will their commander or superior treat them differently if he or she finds out they’re not a Christian? Will he or she treat them as less than if they are Christian but not the right kind of Christian? Will they be retaliated against if they don’t join in their commander’s prayers or show up at their commander’s Bible study? How will this affect their career?
No service member should have to have these worries in a country that separates church and state. But many do.
So, let’s look at a couple of these seemingly little things that make so many service members uneasy.
Over the years, MRFF has successfully gotten several military units to change their unit’s patch after complaint’s from service members about the patch’s Christian supremacist imagery or slogans, and recently one such patch was reported to MRFF. This one didn’t come from a service member who was required to wear the patch, but was sent to MRFF by a very unlikely source – someone from one of the many fundamentalist Christian organizations that we’re usually at odds with, saying “we might agree on this one.”
What this normally adversarial person sent was a link to a video of a military combat training exercise a few weeks ago in which the US Marine Corps Forces Pacific and other military commands torpedoed an old out-of-service ship. They told us to look at the 0:23 mark in the video, writing “there’s an ensign in the foreground with a shoulder patch directly facing the camera, which is a slightly stylized version of the ‘He>I’ meme that is a popular Christian bumper sticker/tee shirt logo, meaning that Christ is greater than I,” and said they were “a bit dumfounded” when they saw it. Here is a photo of the patch:
After some investigation, MRFF determined that the service member wearing this unmistakably Christian patch — literally wearing their religion on their sleeve — is not a Navy ensign but a Marine first lieutenant from the US Marine Corps Forces Pacific. Being an officer means that the Marine wearing this patch is the superior of all enlisted Marines under them.