The Southern Baptist Convention plans to fight repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. I think one of the most noteworthy points in that article is that the SBC has more military chaplains than any other denomination, including more than the Roman Catholics (there are over four-times as many Catholics in the US as Southern Baptists, but the SBC has nearly twice as many chaplains as the Catholics).
Notable quote from the article:
Southern Baptists, who say their presence in the military chaplaincy totals 1,300 chaplains when Reserve and National Guard units are included, have told Congress and the Pentagon that chaplains could lose their freedom to preach and counsel against homosexuality if openly gay members are accepted by the military.
“For instance, a chaplain could be told there are certain passages of the Scripture that you shouldn’t preach from,” said the Rev. David Mullis, the Southern Baptists’ military chaplaincy coordinator. “If there was a prohibition about certain kinds of literature that did not espouse homosexuality, I can see the Bible being banned in the military.”
Just. Fucking. Wow.
To my knowledge, the SBC chaplains don’t “preach and counsel against” cheeseburgers, lasagna, pork chops, bacon, sausage, shellfish, working on the sabbath, wearing clothing made of mixed fibers, shaving with a razor, cutting hair in certain ways, tattoos, piercings, and so on. The Bible is replete with rules which Southern Baptists and other fundamentalists break on a daily basis. The Southern Baptists also express nary a concern that one can walk into nearly any grocery store in this country and find various kinds of meat from animals God calls an abomination.
Why the goddamn silence on those rules? And what is it about homosexuality that makes it a deal-breaker when it comes to whether Baptist chaplains can serve in the military?
Chaplains from many religions serve our military. They’re supposed to be ecumenical but with the growth of fundamentalist Christians in the chaplaincy has come various proselytizing issues. Sometimes Congress has tried to enable sectarianism. Chaplains aren’t supposed to refuse counsel and comfort to those of other religions. But they say they’ll do it when it comes to others with whom they have disagreement? In the end, why is it more unreasonable to minister to an openly gay soldier than to a proud Jew or Hindu or Muslim who rejects that Jesus is the only way to eternal life?
The chaplaincy exists for the benefit of the military — to serve all members of our armed forces. It’s not the other way around: the military doesn’t exist for the benefit of sectarian indoctrination, for proselytizing, for fomenting hate and intolerance of other soldiers on the basis of race, religion, national origin, or anything else.
Perhaps we’ve had it wrong all along. Maybe “don’t ask, don’t tell” should apply to fundamentalists instead of gays. After all, our secular Constitution is silent on the issue of sexuality but it’s very clear that we don’t hold religious tests for public office and government can’t make laws establishing religion or infringing upon practice. Fundamentalists in the military could still practice their religion, just do it on their own time and on their own dime but leave the taxpayers out of it.
Military service is patriotic and commendable. We should encourage everyone who’s fit for service and wants to serve to do so without discrimination. It’s time to do away with bigotry in the ranks. We aren’t a theocracy, and we shouldn’t run our military as if it were.
On Thursday of this past week, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb of the Western District of Wisconsin ruled that 36 USC § 119 is unconstitutional.
The irony of a Carter appointee interpreting the Constitution strictly and the Religious Right (and some who aren’t) disagreeing is kind of amusing. Detractors say and write that she’s “banned the National Day of Prayer” when all she’s done is rule that the congressional mandate of a proclamation of such a thing by the president is unconstitutional. And she is absolutely correct.
For those who won’t bother to look at the links, Section 119 of 36 USC says:
The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating
the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the
people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and
meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.
Some of the proponents of this measure suggest historical antecedents dating back to 1775. That would pre-date the Constitution, and our government is defined by and our civil liberties are protected by the Constitution rather than tradition.
The first codified version of the National Day of Prayer goes to 1952, during the national freak-out over communism just before the height of the McCarthy hearings. Senator Absalom Willis Robertson introduced legislation calling for a day of prayer as a bulwark against communists. Robertson was one of 19 senators (and 82 US representatives) to sign the Southern Manifesto, a rebuke of the Supreme Court’s Brown versus Board of Education ruling.
By the way, Robertson’s son Pat is a famous televangelist.
In its current form, the National Day of Prayer as required by Section 119 traces its history all the way back to 1988. It was pushed by the Religious Right. The “National Prayer Committee,” which sets up public events for the National Day of Prayer, is a fundamentalist group. So, too, is the “National Day of Prayer Task Force” — it’s an arm of Focus on the Family and is chaired by the wife of James Dobson.
Why do I bring these aspects of “councils” and “task forces” in relation to the current law’s origin? Because this whole thing has been orchestrated as a sectarian event, not as some kind of civil or even ecumenical exercise.
That wasn’t lost in Judge Crabb’s ruling:
…the statute seems to contemplate a specifically Christian form of prayer with its reference to “churches” but no other places of worship and the limitation in the 1952 version of the statute that the National Day of Prayer may not be on a Sunday.
The First Amendment is patently clear:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The courts have ruled repeatedly that “establishment” extends beyond setting up a national church. It includes anything government might do that coerces religious exercise or expression. Section 119 of USC 36 certainly does that by requiring the president, the nation’s highest executive office, to declare one specific day a national day of prayer. Prayer is religious exercise, not a secular matter, and Congress may not make such laws. Plain and simple.
Let me also point out that Judge Crabb’s decision in no way is a slap against religious exercise in general or prayer in particular. She wrote in her decision,
A determination that the government may not endorse a religious message is not a determination that the message itself is harmful, unimportant or undeserving of dissemination. Rather, it is part of the effort to “carry out the Founders’ plan of preserving religious liberty to the fullest extent possible in a pluralistic society.”
It bears emphasizing that a conclusion that the establishment clause prohibits the government from endorsing a religious exercise is not a judgment on the value of prayer or the millions of Americans who believe in its power.
So why did she rule against Section 119 if she concedes prayer is important to so many people for so many reasons? Because Congress is prohibited from influencing private expressions of faith. This, she writes, goes beyond national days of prayer to encompass other activities which government, left unrestrained by the Constitution, could enact:
…recognizing the importance of prayer to many people does not mean that the government may enact a statute in support of it, any more than the government may encourage citizens to fast during the month of Ramadan, attend a synagogue, purify themselves in a sweat lodge or practice rune magic. In fact, it is because the nature of prayer is so personal and can have such a powerful effect on a community that the government may not use its authority to try to influence an individual’s decision whether and when to pray.
That hasn’t stopped her detractors from calling her godless or anti-Christian. Some have claimed she isn’t following the Constitution or (more laughably) that her ruling makes the Constitution unconstitutional. Oh yeah, on what grounds?
I’ve read the entire decision and find it both convincing and within the mainstream of judicial thought. Moreover, given the fact that the Justice Department is reviewing the ruling and could very well challenge it, I think it would be upheld by the Supreme Court. Even in recent years, the Supreme Court has ruled in such ways that the precedents in Lemon versus Kurtzman, including the “Lemon Test“to which Crabb deferred in her decision, have been upheld. That three-question test remains the measure the Surpreme Court has continued to use in these kinds of cases, even though Justice Scalia (in his dissent to Lee versus Weisman) argued that the Lemon Test shouldn’t be used on grounds that it “if applied consistently it would invalidate longstanding traditions.”
Well, slavery was a longstanding tradition. And so was only giving land-owning white males the right to vote. We’re a nation founded on laws — on the Constitution — not on tradition.
Yet this whole National Day of Prayer movement, rooted in fundamentalist sectarianism, is predicated on a false view of history peddled by people like David Barton. They claim all kinds of religious antecedents in the founding of the nation, and, of course, for the national day of prayer. This has become a day which they use to spread their revisionist history and their peculiarly fundamentalist brand of Christianity. They don’t deserve the imprimatur of government when they do it. And that’s what the National Day of Prayer has become, which is why it was unconstitutional in the first place.
Speaking of tradition and the Constitution, it’s true James Madison proclaimed days of prayer. He later wrote in regret, “They seem to imply and certainly nourish the erroneous idea of a national religion.” Thomas Jefferson likewise wrote, “Fasting and prayer are religious exercises; the enjoining them an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the time for these exercises, and the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and right can never be safer than in their hands, where the Constitution has deposited it.”
That’s where we, too, should leave the matter. Judge Crabb reached the right decision for the right reasons. Nobody is prohibiting individuals or groups from praying for the country or anything else. It’s just that “Congress shall make no law respecting establishment of religion.” That’s what the founders wanted. That’s how Judge Crabb ruled.
Those who oppose this ruling oppose the founders and, in order to prevail upon appeal, will need a bit of judicial activism to expand or alter the original intent of Madison, Jefferson, et al., when they wrote and ratified the First Amendment. Politics makes strange bedfellows. Unfortunately, that opposing group presently includes President Obama who will go ahead with the proclamation despite the ruling. That won’t stop his critics from lying that he’s banned the day of prayer, or that he’s not properly observing it.
The best way to observe it is to follow this ruling and let private citizens — individually or in voluntary groups — set aside their own day for prayer without state intervention establishing, endorsing, or prohibiting it.
Just a quick election update; I’ll add more to this later.
The Religious Right in Texas suffered more defeats in yesterday’s GOP run-offs. Candidates backed by the pro-life, home-schooling, history-revisionist groups lost to candidates considered to be much more moderate.
Marsha Farney won the GOP nomination in the SBOE 10th district race. She took 62% to home-schooler Brian Russell’s 38%. Russell had endorsements from the usual Religious Right suspects, including incumbent Cynthia Dunbar who was leader of the SBOE’s majority Religious Right bloc. Farney outspent Russell by a greater ratio than her vote total but also had party establishment support (even though Russell sits on the Texas GOP Executive Committee).
In a much closer race, Debra Lehrmann defeated Rick Green for the GOP nomination for the Texas Supreme Court. Green, who works for David Barton’s far-right Wallbuilders revisionism outfit and has zero experience as a judge, ran on a platform opposing abortion, gay rights, and past decisions against organized sectarian prayer in the classroom. Lehrmann outspent Green by about four-to-one.
Amend 1: This is on top of clear-out losses by Religious Right candidates like creationism-pundit Don McElroy of the Texas SBOE last month.
This is in the Republican primaries, presumably dominated by more-conservative-than-average voters. Have Texas GOP voters had enough of the Religious Right’s grasp on the state? And what will happen come November? Can more moderate GOP candidates hold their own against Democrats?
Amend 2: Dan has more at TFN Insider about the Bad Day for the Religious Right in Texas. So does Lee Nichols at the Austin Chronicle from last night before totals were in (but the writing was already on the wall). PFAW’s RightWingWatch also has an update about Rick Green’s loss in the Supreme Court run-off.
Gosh, here it is Sunday night before the SBOE 10th District GOP run-off and to date I’ve received one call — from Marsha Farney (has it been two or three weeks ago before early voting started?). Maybe tomorrow Joe Pojman’s call will come in. After all, Farney’s last mailer said that I should beware of last minute calls trying to scare me from voting for her… as if her increasingly alarming mailers didn’t do a good enough job of that by painting her way to the right of a candidate I considered way outside the mainstream.
One of the GOP precinct chairmen has been putting messages on Farney’s Facebook page throughout the weekend, and all of them appear to be without any reply from Farney. In the most recent, he comes right out and suggests former Travis County GOP chairman Alan Sager is behind her mudslinging, bringing up old tales of party in-fighting.
Whatever she’s done, she’s put herself into a box and it would be ironic if Sager — who was deemed much more moderate than some of the precinct chairs (especially mine at that time) — was behind getting Farney to move right. If Farney spent enough to overcome the grassroots support of Russell, how will she be able to win them over after demonizing him in the manner she did, hold onto her own base, and run as a sensible-enough candidate to appeal to moderates and independents after trying so hard to one-up her far Right cred against the far, far Right candidate who had the endorsement of far, far, far Right outgoing incumbent Cynthia Dunbar?
I should have more about this race for tomorrow, even if I don’t get any scary calls from the pro-life organizations. But if I do get some of those calls, they’ll be posted to my youtube account ASAP.