The mere sight of a Bible in a public place prompts “controversy and division,” according to commanders at Patrick Air Force Base. To avoid any such upheaval, officials for the 45th Space Wing recently decided to remove a private organization’s memorial display containing a Bible and intended to honor missing soldiers and prisoners of war (a “Missing Man Table”) from a base dining hall.
Of particular irony is the fact that this reversal of a long history of including such memorials in dining halls occurred at the same installation where the Department of Defense’s equal opportunity agency -- the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute -- is housed. DEOMI is tasked with training military Equal Opportunity (EO) advisers on how to instill respect and tolerance for diverse viewpoints in service members. Apparently, that respect and tolerance isn’t supposed to extend to religious speech or the ability of an organization to recognize the role religious faith has played in the lives of many service members.
That position not only contradicts Supreme Court precedent that condemns the restriction of speech solely because of its message, it also does a disservice to our ability to remember the stories of American war heroes. One such service member is former Alabama Senator and Rear Admiral Jeremiah Denton, Jr., a Naval aviator who spent seven years in captivity in Vietnam and who spoke frequently of the role a deep Catholic faith played in carrying him through unspeakable prison camp horrors.
The American public best knows Rear Adm. Denton as the Vietnam captive who blinked T-O-R-T-U-R-E in Morse code, successfully communicating with American intelligence officers regarding camp practices, when forced by his captors to appear on television in 1966. Rear Adm. Denton died just three days ago, a respected veteran and public servant who had inspired many fellow captives to return “home with honor.” Faith played a part in his story, and the story of many other captives. Requiring organizations and individuals to ignore that reality not only violates legal precedent, it hollows out the heritage of many of our war heroes.