KANEOHE, Hawaii — A Marine Corps base in Hawaii is refusing to relocate or remove a sign that asks God’s blessing on the Armed Forces following receipt of a complaint from a group that seeks to separate God from the military.
As previously reported, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) sent an email last month to Col. Sean Killeen, the commanding officer of Marine Corps Base Hawaii, to take issue with a sign near the marina that reads, “God bless the military, their families, and the civilians who work with them.” It was reportedly erected following the September 11th attack of 2001.
Blake Page of MRFF asserted that the sign is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” He demanded that the sign either be moved to the chapel or removed altogether.
“This sign is a brazen violation of the No Establishment clause of the Constitution, as it sends the clear message that your installation gives preference to those who hold religious beliefs over those who do not, and those who prefer a monotheistic, intervening God over other deities or theologies,” Blake wrote in the email to Killeen.
“We recognize the value that religious activity brings to the lives of many,” he continued, “however, this sign is not in keeping with the time, place, and manner restrictions required by law [or] for any military commander to bolster religious principles through the official authority given to their rank and position.”
But the religious liberties group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) also sent Killeen an email, asserting that MRFF’s demands were unconstitutional.
“As it stands, the sign is not grounds for an Establishment Clause violation. However, removal of the sign would certainly be in violation of the Establishment Clause, showing preference for no religion over religion,” Director of Military Affairs Daniel Briggs wrote.
“Our nation has many constitutionally permissible reminders of our historical and cultural roots, from our national motto, ‘In God We Trust,’ to ‘so help me God’ in the Commissioned Officer’s Oath to the presidential proclamations
accompanying each National Day of Prayer,” he continued.
After deliberating the matter, Killeen sent a reply to MRFF on Friday refusing to relocate or remove the sign.
“Several Supreme Court court cases and other federal cases, to include the 9th Circuit, support the conclusion that the message on the sign does not violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution,” he wrote. “‘God bless’ is commonly used in our culture in a number of contexts and there are numerous references to God in this nation’s symbols, songs, mottos and oaths.”
“To date, we have not received any direct complaints concerning this sign from service members or reports of service member complaints through any official chain of command,” Killeen continued. “We will always support all service members’ rights to pursue and practice their own belief sets, whether religious or not.”