The MRFF members who raised the concerns (not all atheists, mind you) were fine with honoring soldiers who were prisoners of war or missing in action, but they didn’t understand why the government was promoting Christianity in the process. After all, it’s not like casualties of war are always Christian. For some of them, it was just another way of perpetuating the false notion that there are no atheists in foxholes.
The clinics eventually heeded the warnings, removing the bibles from the displays. It wasn’t an anti-Christian move; it was a pro-neutrality move.
Now, the Congressional Prayer Caucus is demanding the return of the bibles to the memorial tables. Led by Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) and Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA), they sent a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald explaining that the display isn’t promoting Christianity just because the Bible’s included in it.
… the Establishment Clause does not require that you remove Bibles from the Missing Man Table displays. The mere presence of a Bible coerces no one.
The Supreme Court recently stated that “an Establishment Clause violation is not made out any time a person experiences a sense of affront from the expression of contrary views…” Town of Greece v. Galloway…
We request an explanation as to why the Bibles were removed from the three VA facilities, as well as any policy that will be applied going forward, including a summary of who will be responsible for implementing it…
This would all sound much more convincing if the people who signed the letter — including Sen. Ted Cruz — wouldn’t be first in line to complain if the Qur’an were there instead…
And the mention of Greece v. Galloway is especially weird since that ruling explicitly said one religious group couldn’t be privileged over all others, which is exactly what’s going on with this display. Remember: MRFF’s members requested similar tables with the Torah and The God Delusion. Those requests were never accepted because the bibles were removed, making it a moot point.
Last night, I asked MRFF President Mikey Weinstein what he made of this letter and he was furious, calling it “nothing more than a big juicy piece of red meat” from the politicians to their constituents during an election year. The letter “isn’t even worthy to wipe one’s ass with,” he added.
He referred to the bibles on the memorial tables as “vicious, disgusting, nauseating” examples of Christian exceptionalism. And he wasn’t done yet.
“The people who signed this letter are rapists. Spiritual rapists.” Sure, the letter says “Congress of the United States” at the very top, but Weinstein believes it should say “Congress of Spiritual Rapists.” Which would at least make for more interesting letterhead…
Dustin Chalker, MRFF’s Atheist Affairs Advisor, was more civil in his remarks to me:
We support displays such as the POW/MIA table to honor our lost men and women, but the presence of a Christian Bible turns something we should all respect into an exclusive sectarian display honoring only some of those men and women and excluding others. To reason by analogy: suppose they placed an Army logo, and no others, on the table. Wouldn’t this inherently exclude the other branches? Suppose they place a white figurine, and no others, to honor white service members. Wouldn’t this inherently exclude all non-whites? Now suppose they place a Bible, and no others… Only an oblivious fool or a theocratic supremacist could possibly fail to see the problem. Exclusion has no place in the Constitutional tradition of equality that all of our men and women fight for, Christian or not.
Aside from his verbal punches, Weinstein pointed out that, even if the POW/MIA display with the Bible was legal in some government locations, the military was different. He directed me to the 1974 Supreme Court case Parker v. Levy in which Justice William Rehnquist wrote:
While the members of the military are not excluded from the protection granted by the First Amendment, the different character of the military community and of the military mission requires a different application of those protections. The fundamental necessity for obedience, and the consequent necessity for imposition of discipline, may render permissible within the military that which would be constitutionally impermissible outside it.
In other words, the military can be stricter than the government when it comes to applying the law in an effort to strength cohesion. Things that might slide for most of us wouldn’t slide in the military. A Bible, which by definition excludes non-Christian soldiers who gave their lives for this country, does more damage as part of a military display than a secularized version of the same memorial. So the military has an obligation to refrain from promoting a particular religion.
I don’t know how Secretary McDonald will respond to the letter, but let’s hope he doesn’t budge on this. Congress’ in-house version of the Christian Right shouldn’t get to dictate how their religion is promoted in the military.
Weinstein says this is a “tantrum of the majority” — and, just as with children, it’d be foolish to cave in to their whining.
(Thanks to Aaron for the link. Portions of this article were published earlier)