A national religious freedom law firm is encouraging a New Hampshire Air Force base to ignore demands that military chaplains stop offering invocations during ceremonies.
“It is perfectly constitutional for military chaplains to offer prayers and Bible readings during ceremonies,” Mike Berry, First Liberty Institute’s Director of Military Affairs and Senior Counsel said in a press release.
Berry is responding to the latest effort from the secular non-profit Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) to stamp out expressions of faith in the public square.
In a February 6 letter to Pease Air National Guard Base, FFRF claimed that invocations at official base events are “violating the constitutional limits on government religious endorsement.” FFRF also declared that “inflicting prayer” is “unnecessary and divisive” and “beyond the scope of a government entity.” They’re pressuring the base to make its chaplains cease the invocations.
First Liberty responded Tuesday with its own letter to Pease’s commanding officer on behalf of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty. “There is no legal requirement for you to give in to the FFRF’s demands,” Berry wrote. He continued:
Their demands appear to be based on the flawed notion that military chaplains cannot offer invocations at ANG [Air National Guard] functions. The FFRF’s position and legal argument are incorrect. Federal law, military regulations, and court precedents belie the FFRF’s specious claims. Uniformed chaplains are clearly permitted, indeed protected, when they offer invocations at military functions.
Berry added that the Constitution, federal law, and Department of Defense “actually forbid military commanders from censoring or prohibiting such invocations.”
Stifling the Religious Freedom of the Nation’s Finest
Defending the rights of military chaplains has long been a top priority for First Liberty, Berry told The Stream. “We have seen a new wave of political correctness stifle religious freedom in the military,” he said. “This case is just the latest example of chaplains being attacked for doing their job.”
According to Berry, religious freedom for military chaplains ensures religious freedom for all military members. “It is vital that our military be just as spiritually fit as it is physically and mentally fit,” he said.
The U.S. Marine Corps seems to recognize this. In October of 2016, General Robert Neller of the Marine Corps announced a new initiative to emphasize physical and spiritual fitness. “By attending to spiritual fitness with the same rigor given to physical, social and mental fitness, Marines and Sailors can become and remain the honorable warriors and model citizens our Nation expects,” Neller wrote, adding, “Your leaders and chaplains at all levels stand ready to engage with you in this task.”
Berry is hopeful that the new presidential administration will “reverse this trend toward religious hostility so that America’s military can remain strong and resilient,” according to the press release.
President Donald Trump has been “a strong advocate of an end to political correctness and the restoration of freedom of expression and religious exercise,” Berry told The Stream. “We hope President Trump, Secretary Mattis, and all military leaders will prioritize ensuring that our service members have the right to freely exercise their faith as they serve.”