‘God bless the military’ sign can stay — for now

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"God Bless the Military" sign at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Photo courtesy of Military Religious Freedom Foundation

"God Bless the Military" sign at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Photo courtesy of Military Religious Freedom Foundation

(RNS) A sign declaring “God Bless the Military” is staying put on a Hawaiian military base, despite protests from a religious freedom advocacy group in the military.

Col. Sean C. Killeen, commander of the Marine Corps Base Hawaii, located on Oahu near Kaneohe Bay, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser Friday (Oct. 9), “We will always support all service members’ rights to pursue and practice their own belief sets, whether religious or not.”

The sign became a sore point in September when base officials received a complaint from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an Albuquerque, N.M., group that supports religious freedom and the rights of atheists in the military.

Mikey Weinstein, the group’s founder and president, has called the sign a “brazen violation” of the Constitution’s protection against government-supported religion and said it “sends the clear message that your installation gives preference to those who hold religious beliefs over those who do not.”

Col. Sean C. Killeen , commander of the Marine Corps Base Hawaii, located on Oahu near Kaneohe Bay, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser Friday (Oct. 9), "We will always support all service members' rights to pursue and practice their own belief sets, whether religious or not." Photo courtesy of Marines

Col. Sean C. Killeen , commander of the Marine Corps Base Hawaii, located on Oahu near Kaneohe Bay, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser Friday (Oct. 9), “We will always support all service members’ rights to pursue and practice their own belief sets, whether religious or not.” Photo courtesy of the Marines

The large white sign with red, black and blue letters was erected after the 9/11 attacks and has been in place for 14 years. It reads “God Bless the Military, Their Families, And the Civilians Who Work With Them.”

If the sign is not removed or relocated to the base’s chapel, Weinstein has said his group will call for the erection of nine additional signs that proclaim other gods’ special feeling for the military, including “Vishnu blesses the Military” and “There is no god to bless … We have each other.” Other signs would recognize the Jedi Church, the Baha’i faith and the Church of Satan, Weinstein said.

If their demands are not met, Weinstein has threatened a lawsuit.

“We are in discussion with civil rights litigators in Honolulu,” Weinstein said in a phone interview. “It is just a matter of whether any of our military men want to come forward.”

Michael Weinstein, Military Religious Freedom Foundation founder and president, has called the sign a "brazen violation" of the Constitution's protection against government-supported religion and said it "sends the clear message that your installation gives preference to those who hold religious beliefs over those who do not." Photo courtesy of Military Religious Freedom Foundation

Michael Weinstein, Military Religious Freedom Foundation founder and president, has called the sign a “brazen violation” of the Constitution’s protection against government-supported religion and said it “sends the clear message that your installation gives preference to those who hold religious beliefs over those who do not.” Photo courtesy of Military Religious Freedom Foundation

Killeen told the Star-Advertiser no one on the base has told him they are offended by the sign. Weinstein said base personnel felt too intimidated to do so, but that more than 70 people — many of them Christian — on the base have complained to his group about the sign. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation claims it has assisted over 40,000 active-duty servicemen, veterans, and civilians who have served with the U.S. armed forces.

YS/AMB END WINSTON

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  • Jason

    I read the article quoting Mr. Weinstein as having declared that the sign “sends the clear message that your installation gives preference to those who hold religious beliefs over those who do not.” Clear? No, sir, it is not clear. Can you read English, sir? If I tell you “I like apples”, will you declare to me that I like all kinds of fruits or that I eat only apples? You won’t, but you are with the sign. Did you always have personal hatred toward anything related to Christian God or father figure? But, no matter, people as close minded as you will rarely become self-critical enough to ponder if one’s own opinions are well backed up by reasons and facts. It is just annoying that your organization is deceiving naive Christians into believing as if it protects their freedom of religion. It should be honestly labelled as Club for Disrupting Christians’ Freedom of Religion (CDCFR). Thank you for reading into one ear and out to another.

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  • Fran

    God is against man killing his fellowman and against war (Micah 4:3,4), so the sign is not appropriate, even for Christians.

  • Jack

    Years ago, Mikey Weinstein originally had a very good point, but has now become another publicity-obsessed media hound.

    Years ago, he correctly spotlighted a small but seemingly influential group in the military which espoused dominionist theology — ie a view that America should be turned into a theocracy governed by biblical law. Dominionism, also known as theonomy, has been condemned as heretical by virtually every Christian denomination and movement in America, including by the vast majority of evangelicals, conservative as well as moderate or liberal.

    But ever since then, he has gone far beyond his original fight and is desperately trying to remain relevant.

  • Glyndon Morris

    Thank you, Fran! So often God is invoked for militarist or nationalist causes, which is completely antithetical to both Christianity and the Jewish prophets.

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  • Larry

    That is a very poor and woefully dishonest excuse for what is clearly both an endorsement of Christian faith by government.

    Did you always have a personal hatred towards anything related to the 1st Amendment and its religious freedom components? You have made it clear the sign was meant as support for purely Christian belief. Why do you think your faith is entitled to official government support and no others? Your view of religious freedom is that it only applies to Christians and all others should be ignored.

    Putting up signs and symbols of Christian faith on public grounds, TO THE EXCLUSION OF ALL OTHER FAITHS, sends the message that only Christians will be taken seriously by those government facilities. That the government will engage in sectarian discrimination. Exercise of religion of other faiths is under attack.

    Weinstein’s point is that religious slogans/symbols on public grounds are OK if not in isolation of one faith. Either embrace all faiths or none.

  • Larry

    Now that you are done making ad hominem attacks on Weinstein’s character, maybe you might address the actual issue of abuse of authority by the base commander in service of his faith.

    “Dominionism, also known as theonomy, has been condemned as heretical by virtually every Christian denomination and movement in America”

    And yet it is the dominant form of Christian belief among religious conservatives and their political supporters. Yet the majority of Republican candidates for president endorse such beliefs wholeheartedly.

    Weinstein’s point, the one ignored by people who believe religious freedom only applies to Christians, is that religious symbolism on public property is only permissible if it is not in isolation. A government which values religious freedom must embrace all faiths or none at all in public. Rather than tear the sign down, erecting ones embracing other faiths as well shows respect for beliefs besides the base commander’s.

  • L. Taylor

    It does give a clear indication that the command favors a belief in God. That is a fact and any defense to the contrary is ignorant and best and usually downright dishonest.

    This kind of constant passive religious discrimination against agnostics and atheists in the military creates a toxic leadership environment and this Colonel has no business commanding a base if he does not recognize that.

    It also gives highly religious leaders the sense that they can more openly discriminate against soldiers. Something I have witnessed and personally experienced several times during my career.

  • Jack

    Larry, I’ve been more than fair to Mikey by supporting his spotlighting a problem — unlike you, who as a cynical & crass partisan never give anyone credit who’s on the opposite side from where you are.

    He was absolutely right when he first went after real theocrats who truly were coercing people, but now he has broadened his attack to include basic freedom of religious expression.

    It’s a token of your theological ignorance that you don’t understand the difference between dominion theology and the bedrock American position on religious freedom, which asserts that religious expression enjoys the same constitutional protection as non-religious expression in public life. Your view is not the American view, but the French laicite view. You have a right to prefer radical foreign views, but since you’re living in America and not France, you shouldn’t be surprised if you get pushback from other Americans who don’t want to become like France.

  • Jack

    And by the way, Larry, neither you nor Mikey has the slightest interest in “embracing all faiths….in public.” Both you and he want “no faiths” publicly expressed and in your case, to pretend otherwise is disingenuous but typical.

    Again, this totalitarian marginalizing of religion goes way behind Mikey’s original protest, which, again, was rightly aimed specifically at a view which was violating other people’s religious freedom by its overt bullying, which flowed from its avowedly theocratic beliefs. That is a very far cry from now claiming that mere religious expression in public violates same.

    True religious freedom rejects both religious theocracy and secularist totalitarianism.

  • MarkE

    Holy cow, Jack! Can you hear yourself? “It’s a token of your theological ignorance that you don’t understand the difference between dominion theology and the bedrock American position on religious freedom, which asserts that religious expression enjoys the same constitutional protection as non-religious expression in public life.” Religious expression by individuals – yes. Religious expression by the government – not only no but hell no! That is the essence of the First Amendment – the government cannot infringe upon or establish preference for one religion over another. It the colonel wants to put up this sign on the front lawn of his Personally-owned home (not gov’t housing) then that’s fine. But it’s sitting front and square on base property – which the government owns! Get real, man.

  • Jack

    All because of a sign that says “God bless the military?”

    Come on.

    That is absolutely not an establishment of religion in the way the establishment clause envisioned.

    Even you know that.

  • Fran

    Ditto Glyndon!!

  • MarkE

    As any military commander must know and practice, even the appearance on impropriety or favoritism is antithetical to unit morale and cohesion, let alone to the sense of fairness and evenhanded treatment by one’s superiors. I served over 15 years – this is bedrock leadership principles.

  • Jack

    That’s right, Mark, and that was Mikey Weinstein’s original complaint years ago. He was absolutely correct back then.

    But to go after a sign that simply says, “God bless the military?”

    How ludicrous and petty.

  • Larry

    You are full of it. All you did was fling poo at Weinstein. Your input here is worthless.

    You have demonstrated over and over again how little you know about religious freedom. From your nonsense about it as cause for legalized discrimination to your constant defense of obvious violations of the Establishment Clause.

    You also repeatedly ignore the point I make in order to set up a phony strawman point about “French Laicite views”.

    Religious symbolism on public grounds is OK, if it EMBRACES MANY FAITHS did you not get? The point is to demonstrate ecumenialism in government rather than blatant sectarian discrimination. Religious neutrality (the ultimate policy for government to protect religious freedom) is generally achieved by either having no religious displays or ones of many faiths on public grounds. That is a uniquely American approach to the separation of church and state. One that is being violated by the base commander. [Not that you are going to read any of this]

  • Larry

    Jack, you are just tossing labels around without bothering to read what people are saying. Ad hominem Jack as usual. There is nothing totalitarian about demanding that many religions are respected on public ground.

    But then again, time and again you have demonstrated the false belief that religious freedom only applies to Fundamentalist Christians. Railing against secularism is merely admitting that you have no respect for religions other than your own and seek to enact sectarian discrimination. [Of course your definition of “secular” generally has no relation to actual definitions of the term or reality in general]

  • Larry

    How petty that someone calls out an obvious violation of the Establishment Clause. One which undermines confidence and morale of soldiers who do not share the commander’s religious view.

    After all those laws are only there to protect the rights of people who aren’t fundamentalist Christian. Who needs to care about them? Right?

    People should just ignore fundamentalist Christians playing fast and loose with the laws which protect the rights and freedoms of all. /sarcasm

  • Jack

    LOL….A sign that says “God bless the military” is not a violation of the Establishment Clause. The argument is laughable and ludicrous and trivializes the importance of that clause as a serious bulwark against actual theocracy.

    Again, Mikey Weinstein’s original complaint years ago was spot-on and it took guts for him to make it. But again, since that time, he’s become a showboat at best, a tool for the radical left’s attempts to replace the American constitutional model of religious freedom with a truncated, French laicite model.

  • Jack

    Larry, you’re full of it…..you don’t want any religious expression in the public square and you know it. Ditto for Mikey, at least at this point in his life.

    And you’re darned right that it’s totalitarian to discriminate against religious expression as opposed to non-religious expression in public life. The Constitution allows and celebrates both, as is clear with respect to the Free Exercise clause. If the drafters of the First Amendment were alive to hear you and your nonsensical attempts to deem “God bless the military” an establishment of religion, they’d call you a Jacobin and tell you to take a long walk off a short pier, or a boat to Paris.

  • Jack

    Larry, how is “God bless the military” an instance of a violation of the Establishment Clause? You have no idea how ludicrous that sounds and you have yet to make a serious, adult argument to the contrary.

    If you think the First Amendment’s drafters actually thought they were banning signs saying “God bless the military,” you are beyond delusional.

    You have to stretch the Establishment Clause beyond all recognition to arrive at such a ridiculous conclusion. It shows how far your anti-religious bigotry goes.

    And to call the use of the word, God, sectarian is beyond ignorant. Virtually every religious group in the world, and not just the three monotheistic religions, are comfortable with the word. It is anything but a word connoting narrow sectarianism.

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