We are disappointed and gravely concerned to learn that the Christian military chaplains are under direct attack and that their right to pray according to their faith is in jeopardy. As you may know, the Air Force leadership recently released proposed guidelines that will restrict how Air Force chaplains can pray, and if approved, those guidelines may well be implemented throughout the entire DoD. We believe that the Air Force's suppression of religious freedom is a pervasive problem throughout our nation's Armed Forces, and it has come to our attention that in all branches of the military it is becoming increasingly difficult for Christian chaplains to use the name of Jesus when praying. There are currently no laws or regulations that prohibit chaplains from praying according to their respective denominations or different faiths, and we are deeply concerned that chaplains are now being instructed on what to say when they pray.For 4 years I have heard from chaplains around this Nation in letter, meeting with them in person, by telephone, and they have told me just how concerned and disappointed they are that they do not have the freedom. Let me at this time read a letter from a marine major written to me in May of this year, getting ready to go to Iraq. He is in Iraq tonight, and I hope and pray that all of our men and women in uniform are safe. He said:
Throughout our nation's history, chaplains not only have remained an integral part of our military, but they also have always prayed according to their faith tradition; and Christian chaplains have always been able to pray using the name of Jesus . We believe that if Christian chaplains are chosen to pray before a professional setting, then they--as with the chaplain of any other faith--have a constitutional right to adhere to the religious expressions of their faith. Praying in the name of Jesus is a fundamental part of Christian belief and to suppress this form of expression would be a violation of religious freedom.
The current demand in the guidelines for so-called "no-sectarian'' prayers is merely a euphemism declaring that prayers will be acceptable only so long as they censor Christian beliefs. Current surveys in the military indicate that upwards of 80 percent of soldiers identify themselves as Christians, and such censorship of Christian beliefs is a disservice not only to Christian chaplains, but also to the hundreds of thousands of Christian soldiers in the military who look to their chaplains for comfort, inspiration, and support, just as our military soldiers of other faiths look to the chaplains of their faith.
While some military members may find certain prayers to be offensive and wrongly claim that they are not non-pluralistic, we believe these restrictions raise constitutional issues involving the Establishment. Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment (There are numerous other offensive provisions throughout the proposed guidelines. including the onerous provision that chaplains can only speak of their faith with officers--the "peer to peer'' provision). Officially inhibiting or defining what chaplains can and cannot say in effect establishes an official religion and burdens our military's chaplains' right of free speech.
"Dear Congressman Jones, I am a member of the military, and there is something that I think you should know. Before my last change of command, my chaplain came to me and asked if I minded if he mentioned Jesus in his prayer given at the start of the ceremony. I was surprised by the question since the prayer was for me and my family and we are Christian and we specifically desired he do so. He alluded to the fact that he and other chaplains have been asked not to mention Jesus Christ. This startles and frightens me that one's faith is being infringed upon even within our own military. I strongly believe in religious freedom, and I hope you understand my grave concerns about forces that would try to limit it. I hope you can find support to stop this intolerance that is creeping into all walks of life. Sincerely.''This is a marine major who is in Iraq fighting for freedom for the Iraqis and for those in Afghanistan. The last letter I want to make reference to is from a chaplain in the United States Army, and he wrote:
"Thank you for your interest in ending the religious persecution that exists in our military today. I am a chaplain in the United States Army, and I can tell you in all honesty that religious persecution is taking place in the Army on a daily basis. The persecution centers on Christian chaplains praying in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Additionally, I have personally been subject to heavy-handed intimidation by a senior chaplain.''
Invoking the name of Jesus doesn't violate the so-called separation of church and state. Congress has been starting it's day with prayer since before the 1st amendment was written. Here is a prayer I picked at random:
PRAYER -- (House of Representatives - June 15, 2005)
Dr. Edward D. Johnson, Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church of Ocala, Ocala, FL, offered the following prayer :
Dear Father, I thank You for each Member of the House of Representatives. I thank You for the sacrifice they give in order to represent our communities; time spent away from their families, time spent here in Washington and time spent in serving others. I am aware of the enormity of their responsibility in making decisions about issues that not only affect our incomes, but also affect our national security, our moral well-being and our precious freedoms as a nation.
I pray that You would bless these men and women with physical health, mental acuity, moral toughness and spiritual peace. You have established us as a "nation under God.'' You have reminded us that in Your Word, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.'' Heavenly Father, we ask for Your continued blessing on our Nation and for peace and prosperity to abound through our land.
As a Christian, while I make this prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, I know that many others approach prayer in a different manner. We all ask for Your blessings and for Your grace for our lives. Amen.