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Editorial: Censoring Eisenhower, religious freedom in the U.S. military
By Tony Perkins
If President Eisenhower were alive today, the five-star general may be shocked to know that his own speeches are too offensive to be quoted in the military he used to command.
A military chaplain has been taken to task for fulfilling the job description that most spiritual leaders (until recently) were hired to do: talk about faith. In a harmless post for his online website, “Chaplain’s Corner,” Lt. Col. Kenneth Reyes (USAF) of the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska wrote an inspirational piece called, “No Atheists in Foxholes: Chaplains Gave All in World War II.”
The phrase, which President Eisenhower made famous in 1954, dates way back to the Japanese attack at Corregidor. Reyes had hoped to encourage his troops -- believers and non-believers -- with the brave story of the man who first coined the quote.
Turns out, the story only encouraged the attack of anti-faith zealots. Mikey Weinstein, whose own statements are fairly well-known (“Christian monsters of human degradation, marginalization, humiliation, and tyranny”), organized a letter to Reyes’s commanding officer, Col. Brian Duffy, demanding the chaplain be censored. Weinstein and Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) representative Blake Page blasted Reyes for his “redundant use of the bigoted, religious supremacist phrase, ‘no atheists in foxholes,’” and accused the chaplain of “defil[ing] the dignity of service members.” Of course, anyone who has actually read Reyes’s column would understand how preposterous those charges are. Reyes never suggested that “there are no atheists in foxholes,” he was merely tracing, in a very neutral way, the history of the well-known phrase -- a far cry from the “anti-secular diatribe” MRFF calls it. Reyes goes out of his way to include unbelievers in his piece, even suggesting that “faith” can mean different things to different people.
Nonetheless, his superior, Col. Duffy, snapped to attention and within five hours of Mikey’s complaint ordered the article scrubbed from the chaplain’s website. In his profuse apology to MRFF, he promises to keep a vigilant watch over his troops’ speech. “We remain mindful of the governing instructions on this matter and will work to avoid reoccurrence.” Not surprisingly, that didn’t satisfy Weinstein and MRFF, who are demanding a formal punishment for Reyes. “Faith-based hate is hate all the same,” Page wrote. “Lt. Col. Reyes must be appropriately reprimanded.”
For what -- doing his job? Engaging in constitutionally protected speech? Like it or not, a chaplain’s duties, by definition, are to offer prayer, spiritual guidance, and religious instruction. Whether Duffy punishes Reyes or not, the damage has already been done. As FRC’s executive vice president, Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Jerry Boykin told Fox News’s Todd Starnes, chaplains across the military are already afraid of carrying out the most basic duties of their job. “In this case, a chaplain has been censored for expressing his beliefs about the role of faith in the lives of service members. ... Why do we have chaplains if they aren’t allowed to fulfill that purpose?”
Thankfully, the U.S. House of Representatives is on the verge of passing the Defense Department budget with language inserted to protect troops’ conscience and religious rights. Additionally, more than 160,000 Americans have signed a petition to Defense Secretary Hagel, urging him to issue clear policies to protect the religious freedom of our troops. Without such protections, the free speech rights and religious liberties of our nation’s most diligent servants will continue to be trampled.
Tony Perkins, a Marine Corps veteran, is president of the Family Research Council.
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