BOSSIER CITY, Lou. – The sheriff of a Louisiana parish is stunned after Department of Justice funds were cut from a local Young Marines chapter, simply because some of the organization’s activities were deemed to be “religious.”
According to reports, the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement (LCLE) stripped $30,000 in allotted DOJ funding from the Bossier Parish’s Young Marines unit, which is a character-building program designed to encourage healthy lifestyles for members. An official for the DOJ told reporters that the cuts were due to voluntary student-led prayers and a mention of “church” in a Young Marine oath.
“[DOJ regulations prohibit] funding on inherently religious activities, such as prayer, religious instruction and proselytization,” he told columnist Todd Starnes. “And any religious activities must be kept separate in time or location from DOJ-funded activities.”
Julian Whittington, sheriff of Bossier Parish and a coordinator of the Young Marines program, is thoroughly disgusted by the DOJ and LCLE’s decision, saying it was “aggression and infringement of our religious freedoms.” After the funds were cut, DOJ officials told Whittington he would have to write a letter, promising not to pray or use the word “God” in Young Marines meetings, or else the money would never be restored.
“I flat said, ‘It’s not going to happen,’” he told reporters. “Enough is enough. This is the United States of America—and the idea that the mere mention of God or voluntary prayer is prohibited is ridiculous.”
Whittington further emphasized that he’s more concerned about the censorship than he is the lost funds.
“The money is not the issue,” he stated. “It’s the principle of the matter. What is going on here? Who is dictating what can or can’t be said in Bossier Parish?”
For over ten years, the Bossier sheriff’s office has facilitated the local Young Marines program, graduating over 1,000 participants since the chapter’s inception. According to the Young Marines’ national website, the organization “promotes the mental, moral, and physical development of its members,” and also “focuses on character building, leadership, and promotes a healthy, drug-free lifestyle.”
Participants in the Young Marines program are asked to recite the following oath:
“From this day forward, I sincerely promise, I will set an example for all other youth to follow and I shall never do anything that would bring disgrace or dishonor upon God, my country and its flag, my parents, myself or the Young Marines. These I will honor and respect in a manner that will reflect credit upon them and myself. Semper Fidelis.”
Government officials took issue with the first sentence’s mention of God, saying any federally-funded institution should not include religious overtones. However, Starnes recently pointed out that both the U.S. military’s commissioning oath and enlistment oath include the phrase, “So help me God.” And Whittington further asserted the inconsistency of the decision when he mentioned to local TV station KTBS that both the Pledge of Allegiance and the dollar bill include references to God.
Despite the funding controversy, Bossier Parrish’s Young Marines unit appears to be going strong, receiving an outpouring of financial support in response to the ordeal, according to the Shreveport Times. Just last week, another 15 young people were graduated from the program. At the ceremony, Whittington stated that the DOJ had overstepped its rightful authority.
“It’s more about the principle of the issue that Department of Justice can come down here in Bossier City, in our building and tell us what these young people just recited—a voluntary prayer,” he explained to reporters. “We don’t believe that’s offensive. We’ve never had a complaint, and we’re going to keep it in our program as long as we’re doing it here at the Bossier Sheriff’s Office.”
Photo: Bossier Sheriff’s Office