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…