This is an interesting piece over at The Humanist by Carlos Bertha. For a few years now we've been hearing reports, complaints really, that chaplains at the United States Air Force Academy (USAF) have been proselytizing to the cadets. Big shock. Evangelical Christians who are bent on making this a Christian nation can't keep their mits off of others' beliefs and use their government positions to convert the armed forces into a sword for Christ.
Here is an excerpt:
There are two main issues here: the mission of the institution and what sort of institution it is. According to page one of the USAFA Officer Development System Handbook of February 2004, the mission of the Air Force Academy is to "graduate lieutenants of character" for the U.S. Air Force. Faculty members are here to educate students, while air officers commanding--normally active-duty Air Force majors in charge of a squadron of 120-plus cadets--are here to provide basic military training to would-be lieutenants. This seems straightforward enough.But the second issue throws a bit of a wrench in things. The USAFA is a military unit and, as such, it is also an institution of the federal government. Employees of the Academy are therefore subject to all sorts of laws and regulations to which ordinary university professors are not. For example, the law--as currently written--makes what I write in my office the possession of the government, which isn't subject to copyright. This means that, unlike a professor at the neighboring Colorado College, I can't write a book, negotiate to get it published, and earn royalties from it......What I may say in class is curtailed by the establishment clause of the First Amendment. As a representative of the U.S. government--which I most certainly am as a member of the faculty--I can't tell cadets that becoming a Christian is the only way to salvation, or that God is the adult version of an invisible friend. Could I say these things if I were to preface them with "In my opinion"? Well, no, because despite my best intentions, the military structure of the USAFA makes me the de facto commander of the classroom, and what the commander says can be--and often is--construed as the government's position on an issue.
This is really important. It's another example of Barry Lynn's allegation about "damnable religion" in the U.S., Chris Hedges' Christo-fascists, Kevin Phillips' argument that U.S. government has become entangled with an evangelical sect of Christianity that mustn't hold, and a perfect example of why Sam Harris wrote Letter to a Christian Nation.
This kind of proselytizing would fail the Lemon Test flat out. Why?
First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose;
While chaplains are not statutes, they function as the executors of the secular government. As such, they are functionally carrying out the duties of legislation. In this regard, I would say that a Chaplain can never serve a secular function, but I begrudgingly yield to the spiritual welfare of soldiers and their faiths. That said, deliberate conversion at the level alleged at the USAF can not serve any secular purpose whatever, and can, in fact only serve sectarian Christian - namely Evangelical - purposes.
second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion;
The principal effect here does both. It advances the aforementioned sectarian agenda and seeks to repress the non-evangelical Christian faiths of others. It also inhibits on the non-believers' right to not believe. There are atheists in foxholes guys.
finally, the statute must not foster "an excessive government entanglement with religion."
This is a no-brainer as well. The chaplains are clearly entangling, via their government position, the government with a particular sectarian agenda. They will and are crying that their First Amendment rights would be trampled if they are not permitted to convert because it would inhibit their freedoms of speech and religion. Sorry guys. You are in a position to coerce. They don't have all of their First Amendment rights in the Air Force anyway.
When will the militant Christian nationalists learn that THEY are the ones ripping the country apart by forcing the divisions in the nation? It's absurd.