Many of my friends, not surprisingly, consider these the worst of times. They tell me they fear for the survival of our country and certainly for the survival of civil and religious freedoms we cherish. There is no doubt that under this administration, our liberties have been imperiled. No administration in history has targeted religious freedoms.
For example, in the little-noticed case of Hosanna Tabor v. EEOC (2012), the Obama administration tried to order The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod* (LCMS) to change its 170-year definition of who is and who is not a commissioned minister in that 2.4 million member church body. This was a stunning example of denial of religious freedom, but the Obama administration took its unprecedented interpretation of constitutional law all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Happily for freedom, the Obama administration’s tortured reading of the laws was rejected by the High Court by a vote of 9-0. Such unanimous rulings are very rare in the Supreme Court, as we know. But it is an indication of the radicalism of this administration that it was so determined to crush freedom that it would boldly go where no administration in 223 years had gone before.
Members of our U.S. military—our all-volunteer force—are daily feeling the lash of political correctness. As President Obama seems to make every allowance for Islam at home and abroad, his administration has banned Bibles in military hospitals while covering up Christian symbols at VA hospitals and threatening chaplains with discipline if they even mention faith in Christ as part of suicide prevention programs. The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed for me that the high religiosity of Black women was a major factor in their low rates of suicide.
Several years ago, Coast Guard Admiral Dean Lee courageously stood up for freedom and faith at the National Prayer Breakfast. He said what so many in the military feel: That Christian faith is under attack.
The admiral reminded me of my own time in the Coast Guard and his courage encourages me still. It also reminds me of the hope we have for real change in our country.
The ship on which I served was in the news recently for an historic drug bust. The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell (WHEC-719) seized $423 million worth of cocaine. When we consider that it cost about $20 million ($142 million in 2014 dollars) to build the Boutwell in 1967, and that she has been serving our country every since, it seems in this case, the American taxpayers certainly got their money’s worth.
I’m very proud to have served on the Boutwell. But I certainly wasn’t proud on my last day on that vessel. I was leaving the Coast Guard in Seattle in 1978 when I was given a ride home by some of my enlisted friends. These Quartermasters—highly intelligent guys who made the mid watches in the Bering Sea enjoyable—offered me a joint! I was heartbroken. No wonder we were never able to catch the pot smokers on our ship. They were being tipped off. It depressed me and filled with a sense of betrayal.
Four years later, I was living in Connecticut with my wife, a lieutenant commander in the Navy. She came home from Naval Hospital Groton and said we should take a tour of the Cutter paying a visit to the Coast Guard Academy across the Thames River in New London.
I hesitated. I was concerned as I recalled my last day in the service. But overcame my doubts and proudly accompanied my wife. She received a snappy salute from a “squared away” young Seaman Apprentice standing guard at the brow of the ship. He offered us a tour of the Cutter. From that first encounter through the hour-long visit, we saw nothing but hard-working seamen who seemed proud of their ship and their mission.
What had changed? The Navy and Coast Guard had dropped the lax attitude of the 1970s toward sideburns, mustaches, beer-in-the-barracks and had instituted a Zero Tolerance policy for drugs. I didn’t like the fact that my wife had to take drug tests in the presence of Navy Corps Waves, but the policy worked. It largely eliminated the abuse of drugs in the sea services.
Pride in the uniform was restored. Gone were the sideburns. Gone, too, was the 1970’s policy of requiring civilian attire in Washington, D.C. for military officers going to and from work at Headquarters. Instead, officers and enlisted were required to wear their uniforms.
It almost goes without saying the change in those four years (1978-82) was dramatic. And it reflects in no small way the changes in leadership at the top. President Jimmy Carter had been swept out in a landslide and Ronald Reagan was swept in. Reagan loved and respected our all-volunteer military. He made our troops proud to serve again and proud of their uniforms.
When liberal reporters challenged Reagan the candidate in 1980, they said: “You seem to criticize a lot in the Carter administration, Governor. What would you do differently?”
“Everything,” Reagan responded with a smile. And he did change everything.
America has been richly blessed by God. We are a resilient country and our hope for change has not died. All that is needed is a leader who will approach the tasks set before him or her with that same determination: Do everything differently.
*The author's own denomination.