Ken Blackwell is Senior Fellow, Family Empowerment at Family Research Council. This article appeared on Townhall.com, January 3, 2014.
It was a rare and welcome victory for religious freedom for our all-volunteer military. Congress approved-and President Obama the day after Christmas signed - the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This new law contains stronger language than ever before that assures our service members do not have to give up their own freedoms while protecting ours.
This new law contains some of Sen. Mike Lee's (R-Utah) provisions to assure better implementation of freedom guarantees. In the past, the Obama administration has largely ignored protections for service members. This law provides clear deadlines for the Defense Department to issue new regulations. Military commanders should no longer be in doubt about America's historic commitment to religious freedom in the ranks.
This underscoring of basic freedoms by our Congress should never have been necessary.
We have seen under this administration an unprecedented looking away as the basic rights of service members have been infringed. Political correctness seems to be the Order of the Day. This administration has been more interested in using the military as a laboratory for radical social experimentation than as the sword and shield of the republic.
The need to protect such freedom goes all the way back to Gen. George Washington in the Continental Army. When he assumed command of the Army in Massachusetts in 1775, he soon learned there would be an anti-Catholic demonstration by some zealots among the largely Protestant force. "Pope's Day" had been observed for more than a century among New England Puritans. It featured sports and games, but it ended with a spectacle. An effigy of the Pope was stuffed with straw and live cats. Set ablaze, the screaming of the cats was said to be the screaming of the Popes in hell.
His Excellency put a quick end to such overt religious bigotry. He reminded his officers that the cause of America needed help, maybe from Catholic Quebec, surely from Catholic France. And he sternly forbade such a "childish" and "ridiculous" display. Washington put an end to Pope's Day, not only in the Army, but in the nation at large.
This is a far cry from today, when Bibles have been banned at Walter Reed military hospital near Washington, D.C. Family Research Council (FRC) quickly sought congressional support to have those Bibles restored to our wounded warriors.
We have regrettably seen the U.S. Air Force Academy whipsawed by zealousatheizers. These people claim to be for religious freedom, but they jump at every opportunity to impose atheism in the ranks.
Prodded by Mikey Weinstein and his mirfs from the so-called Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the Superintendant the Air Force Academy suddenly dropped "So Help Me God" from the Cadet oath. Too bad.
But with this new law, every Cadet and every Midshipman at every service academy should know: "So Help Me God" is protected speech. No one can take it away.
For assurance, these young military trainees can consult the National Park Service's Mount Rushmore. Each of these Commanders-in-Chief took the Oath of Office as president. Each one placed his hand on the Bible and said:
So Help Me God
With the passage and signature of the 2014 NDAA, the right of each member of the military to say "So Help Me God" in enlistment, in promotion, and in taking their initial oaths, has been written, so to speak, in stone.
My FRC colleague, Tony Perkins, is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. Tony commended the brave stand of Coast Guard Admiral William Lee. The admiral boldly said if he knew one of his young men had attempted suicide, he would not hesitate to offer that suffering sailor a Bible.
Tony said of Congress' passage of the 2014 NDAA: "Defending America's freedom shouldn't mean surrendering theirs." This is especially the case when the Constitution they swear to defend guarantees the first freedom of all Americans.