Atheists and Foxholes

Ho boy, I love this one. Fox News published this piece with the headline “Is The Obama Admin. Imposing Anti-Religious Culture In Military?” It’s another one of those articles that’s difficult to respond to because it’s wrong on so many levels in so many ways. I’ll do my best, though, because this an exceptionally poor bit of journalism, even by the low, low standards of Fox News.

Let’s start with the weirdly-abbreviated Cavuto’d* headline: If you actually read the article, you’ll find that the study deals with supposed abuses against religious practice in military going back to 2005 when the Oval Office was but a gleam in Senator Obama’s eye. Of course, the goal is to paint Obama as the “other”, as a non-Christian, and the headline serves that purpose in Fox’s “Outcome-oriented journalism” world. It’s a small thing, but it hints as the nature of what’s to come.

Now, let’s look at a couple of examples of religious repression cited in the article:

“In 2010 Perkins, a Marine veteran and ordained minister was disinvited to address the National Prayer Luncheon at Andrews Air Force Base after he publicly spoke in opposition to the administration’s effort to repeal the ban on open homosexuality in the military.”

“In May, 2010, Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, was disinvited to the Pentagon’s National Day of Prayer service by the Army because of his comments about Islam.”

I grouped these two together because they illustrate similar principles. Neither of them have anything to do with the actual practice of religion; they’re examples of the military choosing not to give people who express bigoted views the opportunity to speak at a military function. Franklin Graham can practice his religion in any way he chooses, but he does not have a right to express those views in a military or otherwise government-sponsored function.

Let me digress here for a moment. It’s offensive to wrap your personal bigotry in the cloak of religious freedom. Christian leaders have historically spoken out in favor of slavery, of segregation, of wars, and of keeping women in their place. Those views were, rightly I think, minority views and they serve to condemn the people who espoused them, but not the religion as a whole. Cutting bigots extra slack because they claim their bigotry is part of their religion is something we really need to stop doing. And, if their bigotry really IS part of their religion, then their religion doesn’t merit being taken seriously. Now, on to another example:

On Sept. 1, 2011 the Air Force Chief of Staff sent a service-wide memorandum chilling religious speech. “Leaders at all levels must balance Constitutional protections for an individual’s free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs and its prohibition against governmental establishment of religion,” wrote Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz

This is “chilling?” These seems almost painfully hedged and reasonable to me. I’m not sure what I’m missing here, but I support this statement unreservedly.

On Sept. 14, 2011 Walter Reed National Military Medical Center issued an official patient and visitor policy banning Bibles. The policy was later revoked after a political firestorm erupted in the House of Representatives.

I love this one. This rule was created at the request of servicemen who were being harried by proselytizing evangelicals. It was, however, poorly worded. It was also never enforced and since rescinded. Again, it speaks to the military’s seemingly-reasonable attempt to strike a balance between the free practice of religion and not forcing it on people.

There are some cases cited that do seem to cross the line, but given the nature of the source, I’m taking them with a grain of salt. Taken as a whole, the examples of the administration’s efforts to clamp down on religious expression in the military seem surprisingly weak. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that Fox and the Family Research Council were trying to gin up outrage against Obama for partisan reasons rather than out of any real sense of outrage.

And, of course, I don’t know better.

* Jon Stewart coined the neologism “Cavuto.” It’s a verb meaning “to make a controversial statement and then give yourself deniability by putting a question

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