Unlike states such as France, in which religious neutrality is preserved largely through secularism and a movement away from religiosity, the United States, through the First Amendment of its constitution, has maintained religious neutrality by accommodating all religions, as well as non-religion, by showing no preference for one over another; in the former approach, the state seeks to remove religion, or at least religious paraphernalia, from the public sphere, while in the latter, it seeks to enrich the public sphere with religious pluralism. One question remains, however: how far will the United States extend its commitment to religious neutrality when conflicts arise in the public sphere between religious conscience on one hand, and religiously neutral governmental and military duties on the other?

The U.S. Air Force Academy recently made a bold move to express its commitment to the unbiased accommodation of all religions represented within its ranks. The Academy recently moved a pair of stone circles, originally erected to provide cadets a space for relaxation, from a less stable site near its visitors center to a hilltop near the school’s campus. Tech. Sgt. Brandon Longcrier, who identifies as pagan, discovered the site while searching for a place close to nature where he and his fellow pagans, druids, and Wiccans could commune and practice their rites. In response to the desire of these faith groups to find an appropriate site for their earth-based beliefs, the Academy, which has already provided worship places for Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists, designated the site as an official “place of worship”. According to Dan Elliott of The Huffington Post, the effort by the Air Force to provided worship sites for various religions follows in response to increased jokes and epithets among cadets directed at minority faith groups.”[S]o far”, Elliott reports Longcrier as saying, “we haven’t had any real issues.”

By inference, then, the Air Force must apply this same approach consistently with respect to all religious beliefs and practices which do not interfere with the civil and human rights of others. The Air Force may have succeeded so far in showing fairness and respect towards pagan, druid, and Wiccan cadets, but will it extrapolate its reasoning behind this to military chaplains who wish to discuss the homosexuality of the servicemembers they counsel, holding the religious conviction that a god or gods created homosexuals with same-sex preferences? The United States military is then presented with a contradiction between its own policies, between its accommodation of religious beliefs and its own sex-based discrimination. Currently, the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy proscribes its chaplains from discussing the subject as it pertains to the sexuality of other servicemembers, yet for some chaplains, the innateness of homosexuality is a doctrine of their faith, which must be engaged with unobstructed by the government; for them, it is a religious practice, hence a religious right, to counsel others with respect to their homosexuality.

The problem then becomes that the United States military has cherry-picked the religious rights of its servicemembers, patronizing some while discriminating against others, and has therefore violated the First Amendment injunction which requires the separation of church and state. As stated in its Ecclesiastical Proclamation of Canon Law, a part of Universal Life Church Monastery‘s mission is to defend freedom of religion where it does not impinge on the freedom of others, as well as the freedom from religion where it does. When a policy reflects an arbitrary bias toward some doctrines and a blind-eye toward others, it affects even ULCM members who wish to practice their beliefs unimpeded as chaplains in the military.

Do secularist states such as France provide an easier solution than pluralist states such as the U.S. to the problem of religious bias? Perhaps, but it is a long road to amending the Constitution in order to reflect the rejection of all religion, rather than the embrace of it, in the public sphere. Nevertheless, as long as the United States takes an “embrace all” stance, and as long as its military, whether knowingly or unknowingly, fails to reflect this principle by discriminating between which religious beliefs to accommodate, it is imperative for us to speak out against such hypocritical and discriminatory injustice.

Source: The Huffington Post

Leave a Comment