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Crossing the border between Church and State
For the umpteenth time, Mikey Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation are not anti-Christian. How many times must we go through this?
MRFF has filed an injunction to stop the Air Force Academy from holding its traditional National Prayer Luncheon next week. The facts surrounding this event have been reported well elsewhere. I want to focus on the public response.
Far and away, the most frequent criticism leveled against Weinstein and his organization is that he hates Christians. This is like saying the Border Patrol hates Hispanics.
The vast majority of people who illegally cross the border separating the United States and Mexico are Hispanic. So they are the majority of those caught and punished by the Border Patrol. The vast majority of people who illegally cross the border separating church and state are Christians. So they are the majority of those caught and punished by the courts.
Of course, the huge majority of Hispanics obey the law, and so do most Christians. Connecting the power of Christianity to the power of American military might is of little or no interest to the vast majority of American Christianity. We all know the quote from Jesus about rendering unto Caesar.
However, certain offshoots of Protestant fundamentalism are very interested in strengthening the connection between Christianity and government. They would, I believe, establish Christianity as the national religion of America. They believe that Christianity and Islam are destined to meet in an apocalyptic war at the end times, and if those times are coming soon, so much the better. It is this branch of Christianity that started the “National Day of Prayer” movement. This in turn brought us National Prayer Breakfasts and National Prayer Luncheons.
The National Day of Prayer was made possible by the successful lobbying efforts of Billy Graham, during the height of the Cold War. He stood on the Capitol steps and warned that we as a nation had “dropped our pilot, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Public fear of godless communism was running high. It was an act of political genius.
Today, National Prayer events are now widely recognized as Christian events, because Christians are the only ones who care about them. The huge majority of speakers at National Prayer anythings are evangelicals. Like the one MRFF is attempting to challenge.
Lt. Clebe McClary, is a highly decorated Marine who sees himself as a member of “The Lord’s Army.” That clearly connects religious faith to national power. Ask yourself who uses that phrase most often. Catholics gave up that rhetoric long ago. Jews don’t use it, even those serving in the Israeli Armed Forces. For Methodists, Unitarians, and LDS members, it is not part of their religious vocabulary.
“The Lord’s Army” is the exclusive property of those Christians who want their religious beliefs linked to American national power. They are by no means the majority of Christians, let alone the majority of Americans. But they are the majority of those who continually throw themselves against the electric fence of the First Amendment. So they shouldn’t be shocked when something happens.
I do not know if MRFF’s request for an injunction will be granted. First Amendment case law requires a delicate balance between the Establishment Clause on the one hand and the Free Exercise clause on the other. And for reasons most of you know, I am not happy to see the Academy used as a reluctant canary in the coal mine of constitutional jurisprudence.
But neither am I happy to see Weinstein and the mission of MRFF mischaracterized. If the luncheon takes place as scheduled, I will be there. I will listen to what Lt. McClary has to say, and if given the opportunity I may ask him a question or two. But to anyone who seeks to wed religious zeal to American military might to prepare for the Apocalypse, I have some words for you: The Constitution is not on your side. It is on ours.
Dr. Fagin is a lay Torah reader at Temple Shalom in Colorado Springs, an ACLU National Civil Liberties Award Recipient, and a winner of the 2009 Thomas Jefferson Award from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.