The U.S. Military and Religion

An older symbol of the Chaplain Corps that includes Christian and Jewish symbols. There are now Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim symbols as well

W.J. Astore

Disturbing, upsetting, baffling: these words often apply when young troops face religious pressure or discrimination for the first time.

And it disturbs, upsets, and baffles me that a nation founded on religious freedom produces people that want to abridge or eliminate that freedom in the (false) name of following Christ.

It also disturbs, upsets, and baffles me that a military that is supposed to defend our Constitutional freedoms, to include freedom of religion, occasionally works in ways that undermine that very freedom.

I was born and raised within the Catholic church, but I would never push my religious beliefs on someone else.  Certainly not in a military context, in which supervisory authority is nearly absolute.

I believe there is a place for God (or gods, or no god) in the military, and a place for chaplains.  Troops should be able to worship freely in the military, as is their right as American citizens.  But there’s no place for proselytizing, pressure, “mandatory” Bible studies, and all the rest of that.

I remember how much Colorado Springs and the Air Force Academy changed between my first tour there (1990-92) and my second (1998-2002).  Lots of evangelical organizations (like Focus on the Family) built headquarters just to the east of the AF Academy.  I started to see that evangelical influence permeate the Academy.  I suppose I was lucky I left in 2002, just before the scandals involving religious discrimination broke.

The military attracts many young people looking for certitude as well as a mission, a calling.  Some of these young people come to espouse a narrow form of “Christianity,” one that sees itself as uniquely American and uniquely suited to a military context.

Yet how can troops take an oath to support and defend the Constitution, which enshrines freedom of religion, and then work to curtail or offend the religious freedoms of others?

Here’s what people need to remember about military settings: the authority of your direct supervisor is nearly absolute.  If your drill sergeant, your platoon commander, your company commander, makes it obvious that he or she favors Christianity, it puts enormous pressure on subordinates to conform, or at least to fake it.

If your boss in a civilian setting is an assertive Christian evangelist, at least you have the option of quitting (however painful that might prove).  There is no option in the military of “quitting” your platoon, your company, your unit.  Furthermore, in a war zone, refusing to conform to an evangelical zealot as a leader could literally become a matter of life and death.  Hey, Private Jones, you’re an atheist: go ahead and walk point again, i.e. take the lead as the unit walks through dangerous enemy territory infested with IEDs and snipers.  Maybe that’ll give you some faith in God.  Ha ha.

Again, the U.S. military must remember its purpose: to support and defend the Constitution.  In fulfilling that purpose, there is simply no place for evangelism of any religion, Christian or otherwise.

Note: Since 2005, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has fought to ensure religious freedom within military settings.  The foundation represents nearly 45,000 service members, 96% of whom identify as Christian.  Find out more about the MRFF at

4 thoughts on “The U.S. Military and Religion

  1. Associating religion in any form with the power of the state — especially its military arm — violates the Constitution. Nevertheless, both civilian officials and religious hucksters have historically found in each other a kindred soul whose own political and economic self-interest prospers most in an atmosphere of unquestioning obedience to “authority.” Thus, each head of the totalitarian Siamese twin eagerly provides the other with a different side of the blind-obedience coin. As Thomas Jefferson put it:

    “In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.” — Thomas Jefferson, letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814

    Putting professional religious persons into a military uniform obviously violates the Constitution, but since when have either civilian or military “authorities” worried about violating that which they proclaim most “sacred”? Unfortunately for easily terrified Americans, the mutual back-scratching of he “commander in chief” and his military/religious minions works quite well for them both due to its deep psychological basis in:

    Boobie Unconscious Projection
    (from Fernando Po, U.S.A., America’s post-literate retreat to Plato’s Cave)

    The Boobie Grand Ventriloquist
    Put on a sight to see
    He showed just how projection works
    And did it all for free
    (Except for a “donation” that
    He called “gratuity”)

    A giant statue sat on stage
    As huge as any tree
    A little man then sat upon
    A giant wooden knee
    And threw a voice out of himself
    Like it had come from “HE”

    In normal tones of voice this man
    Impressed no one at all
    But when he shouted “GAWD IZ GRATE!”
    A hush consumed the hall
    And into Boobie minds there seeped
    A sick miasmic pall

    The statue never moved an inch
    As wooden things don’t do
    But on its knee the little man
    Had started turning blue
    (It seemed that he had held his breath
    And counted up to two)

    “Don’t let him die!” the crowd beseeched
    In rapt insanity
    Then color came back to his face;
    He breathed more easily
    (It seemed that he had exhaled once
    He’d counted up to three)

    “HE heard your prayers!” the man rejoiced
    “As you can clearly see!
    And what is more, you’d best believe
    That HE looks out for me.
    I’m just HIS trusted messenger
    Who brings HIS plans for thee.”

    “I cannot move but by HIS will.
    I serve at HIS command.
    This BIG GUY that you see right here
    Would rather not demand;
    But if HE has to, you can bet
    That here’s what HE’s got planned …”

    The little man brought down the house
    And as the curtain fell
    The Boobies clapped and danced and sang
    Enchanted by the spell
    They’d all heard GAWD HIMSELF dispense
    Commands that went down well

    In Boobie red-state USA
    The trick works quite the same
    Where Boobie George has jury-rigged
    A “GAWD” that “hears” its name
    Invoked each time that Boobie George
    Desires to light a flame

    But out in “heartland” USA
    Where trees and acres live
    A different symbol scheme requires
    The Boobies to forgive
    The Boobie George’s brain that leaks
    Much like a mental sieve

    You see, with all the things gone wrong
    At home and overseas
    The sacrilegious thought might grow
    That GAWD had heard no pleas
    From wounded, dying soldiers or
    Those looted Iraqis

    So bumbling Boobie George ginned up
    A Rube Goldberg machine
    That cranked out TV symbols of
    A patriotic scene
    Implying GAWD had exercised
    HIS choice to intervene

    One symbol looked just like a flag
    The old Red-White-and-Blue
    But blown up to gigantic size
    So none would miss the cue
    That GAWD and FLAG had just conspired
    To make one thing from two

    The GAWD-FLAG that George had designed
    Contained no flaws or blights
    Its crude associations let
    No mind elude its slights
    As Boobies found their simple thoughts
    Compressed to rude sound-bites

    The image of the little man
    In GAWD-FLAG’s awesome lights
    Consumed the Boobie targets who
    Could not escape its sights
    It hit them, like the sailors say,
    Between the running lights

    And Boobie sailors in the crowd
    Went psycho — lewd and hushed:
    They spent like drunken Reagans and
    At Cheney’s language blushed
    They didn’t know to go hog-wild
    Or just feel simply crushed

    And Boobie soldiers looking on
    In groups of two’s and three’s
    Morphed suddenly in Photoshop
    To number as the bees
    That swarm about a honey comb
    Adoring queens who tease

    And Boobie airmen out on leave
    From their academy
    Felt suddenly compelled to stop
    Harassing property
    Preferring to assault fellow
    Cadets, both he and she

    And Guardsmen working at the jails
    Saw all of this and more
    They took it in and then commenced
    To beat their charges sore
    Why not, when all their leadership
    Had gone to sleep to snore

    Associating little man
    With GAWD-FLAG has its price
    Convincing fearful Boobies that
    They needn’t act so nice
    Combining fright and power to
    Turn humans into lice

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2005

    Yes, fellow Crimestoppers, I think that about covers the subject for today.


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