A Prayer for Common Sense—And Religious Liberty—to Prevail

Molly Ivins, who was a dear friend of the ACLU, expressed our aims in defending all Americans' freedom of religion and belief best in a video comment a few years ago. She quotes James Madison, who once wrote: "The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries."

And Molly quips: "That principle is so important, it's worth being a pain in the ass about. And that's what the ACLU is."

Well, we're at it again. After several midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) in Maryland complained to us that the academy's daily "noon meal prayer," required of all midshipmen, violates their religious freedom, the ACLU, along with the ACLU of Maryland, sent a letter to the USNA's Vice Admiral Jeffrey L. Fowler, asking him to eliminate the mandatory prayer.

It was also after the midshipmen's complaints that the USNA released this completely unhelpful FAQ that utterly fails to address the problem. The FAQ pretends that this very issue—compulsory prayer in military academies—was never addressed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit when it struck down the Virginia Military Institute's "supper prayers:"

While the First Amendment does not in any way prohibit [cadets or midshipmen] from praying before, during, or after [meals], the Establishment Clause prohibits [military academies] from sponsoring such a religious activity."

'Nuff said, USNA.

Now for those naysayers out there who like to complain that the ACLU hates religion, we'd like to direct you to our very long, nearly exhaustive list of instances where the ACLU has stood up for and protected the rights of religious people. From suing to protect the rights of evangelical Christians to preach on the sidewalks of Las Vegas to defending the right of an elementary school student to sing "Awesome God" in an after-school talent show, everybody gets the benefit of our "extremism".

So we hope the USNA will, ahem, see the light, and stop this mandatory prayer business. Because if they refuse, we have these lawyers, see…

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Ryan

I appreciate that the blog author is forthright about the fact that the ACLU is comprised of "extremists". Extremism can be good, when appropriately applied. What I struggle with most is what the underlying motivation and agenda of the ACLU is. In fact, I monitor this side to see what potential harm the ACLU is up to. On some issues I agree with the ACLU in principle, but not always in practice. Maybe that means that I would advocate for a small infringement on freedom. Maybe it just means that some sensibility should be leveled against a philosophy. Unabashed freedom would actually be dangerous given mankind's proclivity for violence, discord, and selfishness. People, at their core, are not good and altruistic. Unabashed freedom could only work if they were. This is why our system of government and judicial process exists as it does, to bring some level of decorum and sensibility to what would otherwise be a free for all. If that means we need to restrict freedom a little to prevent catastrophic terrorist attacks or hold individuals accountable for committing atrocious crimes then I think that is a level of freedom I am willing to give up. If the government were to arbitrarily collect up all brown-eyed people and detain them for life that would not be acceptable. In the middle lies a lot of ground for interpretation. I would like to think that the ACLU's agenda is for good of America, but I haven't been able to reach that conclusion yet.

Ronbo

It's true that 'unabashed' freedom could not truly exist. But, how do do you define freedom? The freedom to agree with you or be labled an extremist? And what freedom would you restrict? Habeus corpus, perhaps? The freedom to criticize our government, even in times of war? I think perhaps it is wise to remember what part of Bin Ladin's master plan was - to make us so afraid that we trade our freedom for security. And King George plays on that fear for all it's worth. And I, and others, will oppose such forces as we can.

Chuck

How does someone effectively contact you folks if and when something like this occurs in a federal workspace? I was told that since my belief system is not "sanctioned" (whatever that means) that I was not permitted to engage in a discussion with the members of the majority religion in the workplace. I tried to follow the "instructions" given to me to get my belief system "sanctioned" (this involved developing, of all things, a lengthy concepts paper and running past senior management and an agency chaplain), but seemingly to no avail. So do I sit back and not be permitted to express my beliefs while others dominate the workplace in much the same way the Naval Academy does? Oh, by the way, this is an agency that also falls under the purview of the United States Navy.

Ronbo

Not knowing your beliefs, it is difficult to comment, but unless you belief in some sort of ceremonial sacrifice, it seems kind of hard to believe that anyone can demand that you have to have your beliefs sanctioned. I am a bioethicist, not a lawyer, but it would seem to me that if they feel the need to discuss religion because of their belief in their intrinsic right to do so at the workplace (rather odd place for such a topic) that discussion within itself would open the door to discussing any and all religious topics. Once you allow, or almost reach the point mandating one point of view, freedom of speech would then allow you to express your opinions on the matter. Of course, this is not a legal opinion. And I am assuming that we still do indeed have a freedom of speech.

Debra Perkins

If I could I would get rid of the ACLU because they stand for nothing good. What business is it of yours to tell us when and where we can pray, worship, and cannot say the word god in anything. If the service men that complained do not want to pray fine they can keep their mouth shut that is why America is free, free to do what we want and we do not need the ACLU. I am a christian and that you cannot ever take away from me. I will pray where and when I like and the words IN GOD WE TRUST should be words the ACLU should use not try to take away from people. If you do not believe fine but what right do you have to push your athiest beliefs on everyone else. We do have freedom of speech not speech for some but for all and all the ACLU wants to do is silence the christians, that will never happen. So why can't you just but out of everyones business and do something good for our country instead of trying to destroy it. If you cannot tell I have know use for the ACLU.

judithod

What a waste of time and money! Suggest that the mids who don't want to pray, do just that. No one is forcing them to "talk" to God! Or have you created this "issue" now in light of the fact that McCain is a graduate of the Naval Academy and Obama has his own religious issues?

Dean

I have a good one for you ACLU people. You have fought so hard to get Christian prayers out of our schools, our gov. and everywhere else you can get it out of. So i ask you this, WHY IS IT THAT IN SAN DIEGO, A CLASS ROOM IS SET ASIDE AND STUDENTS GIVEN 1 HR TO PRAY TO ALLAH, INSIDE THE SCHOOL. YOU HAVE DONE NOTHING TO STOP THIS, IT IS RELIGION IN STATE ALL OVER AGAIN, JUST A DIFFERENT RELIGION. SO ARE YOU REALLY JUST AGAINST CHRISTIANS, OR ARE YOU REALLY HERE FOR THE ENTIRE AMERICAN PEOPLE. CAUSE IF YOUR NOT WE WILL BE WORKING TO SHUT YOU DOWN. IF YOUR GOING TO FIGHT TO GET RID OF 1 RELIGION THEN GET RID OF THEM ALL............

George

As a 2008 Naval Academy graduate, I have to say this is pretty ridiculous!

Let me talk you through a noon-meal-formation.

1) 1200 As a plebe, you get yelled out while standing at attention, doing everything you can not to screw up in military composer/knowledge

2) 1205 You run everywhere inside and down stairs, not allowed to walk in curved paths, making 90* angles in the hall.

3) 1207 You form up squarely with the rest of your squad, platoon company, etc. After standing at attention for 7minutes while accountability is taken, you finally march inside to "king hall", where almost 4000 other mids do the same

4) 1208 You are corrected when you fail to recite the menu correctly, you are punished accordingly with memorization assignments

5) 1210 Finally, a midshipman officer comes to "the anchor", calling all midshipman into attention and then parade rest.

6) 1210-12?? You listen to announcement after announcement after announcement, and you are tired of standing/marching straight up and down for 15 minutes. You don't care that the glee club has a performance etc etc.

7) 12?? Finally, the Chaplain comes to the anchor, he offers words of encouragement--academic, physical, spiritual. He offers them from various inspirations: Jewish, Muslim, Christian, secular.

8) The Chaplain says "I invite those who will to join me in prayer." He prays to God.
-Most mids close their eyes or bow their heads at parade rest.
-Some stand there relaxed and joking with friends, making a sandwhich.
-Others look out the window.
-Some just stare blankly
The Chaplain never once says 'Jesus', 'Allah', 'Jehovah'. He never says "Brigade! Stand at attention while we pray! Bow your head!"

No. The midshipmen collectively decide to bow there heads, standing with hands together. THE NAVAL ACADEMY ADMINISTRATION NEVER COERCES RELIGION ON ANYONE!

Furthermore, they encourage every midshipman to stand up for what they believe in, regardless of what others are doing. THIS IS CENTRAL IN ETHICAL DECISION MAKING FOR THE NAVAL OFFICER.

If you feel uncomfortable, it's your perogative! No one forced you to do anything at the prayer!

Most midshipmen look forward to the prayer, because it's a time to relax, put things in perspective, and FINALLY, after the Chaplain says "amen!", to dig in to that meal you've waited for!

Michael

I wish the ACLU would've sat in on their prayer first before they started telling our sailors how to run their ship!

Phatt Matt

As a former midshipman (class of '88), I appreciated the noon meal and tghe prayer time... I follow my fellow midshipmen from the class of '08 (20 years apart) that has the same account as I would have had those several years ago.

The ACLU is using ill-gotten gains to strong-arm people to re-write history.

The quote from James Madison above is not substantiated in any academic circle or school of reasonable thought. Changing history to fabricate precedent is shameful.

In fact, it is much more the abomination to force people to read made-up history than to ask them to quietly stand by while a handful of us ask for their food to be blessed!

Read what Madison DID say:

SEPTEMBER 1833

. . .I must admit moreover that it may not be easy, in every possible case, to trace the line of separation between the rights of religion and the civil authority with such distinctness as to avoid collisions and doubts on unessential points. The tendency to a usurpation on one side or the other or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them will be best guarded against by entire abstinence of the government from interference in any way whatever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order and protecting each sect against trespasses on its legal rights by others". . . .

Source of Information:
U
Letter to Rev. Jasper Adams from James Madison, September, 1833. Writings of James Madison, edited by Gaillard Hunt, [not sure what the volume number is but have enough information presented here to locate the letter] microform Z1236.L53, pp 484-488.

Especially note the final line: "protecting each sect against trespasses on its legal rights by others" I wish someone would protect us all from the trespasses on our rights by the ACLU!

Hope, Matt

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