Air National Guard Base to Retain Chaplain Invocations at Ceremonies Despite Atheist Complaint

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Officials with an Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire have decided to retain chaplain invocations at military ceremonies despite receiving a complaint from a prominent professing atheist organization.

The Texas-based religious liberties organization First Liberty reported in a national press release on Monday that the Pease Air National Guard Base “will continue their tradition of including prayer during military ceremonies, despite receiving a letter from a special interest group demanding that they stop.”

“We’re very pleased to see the New Hampshire Air National Guard do the right thing and continue their tradition, as the law clearly allows,” Senior Counsel Mike Berry said in the statement. “It is perfectly constitutional to offer invocations at military events and service members have every right to exercise their faith under the First Amendment.”

Berry had sent a letter just last week to commanding officer Col. James Ryan to contend that the prayers are legal and do not need to be discontinued. He countered correspondence from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which sought to end the chaplain-led invocations out of its belief that their inclusion is unconstitutional.

Berry pointed to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the National Defense Authorization Act, as well as the Department of Defense (DoD) instruction entitled “Accommodation of Religious Practices Within the Military Services.” Berry said that under these rules, “the DoD must accommodate individual expressions of religious belief, which undoubtedly include a military chaplain’s invocation.”

First Liberty also noted the 1997 federal court ruling in Rigdon v. Perry, which upheld the rights of two chaplains who desired to preach in favor of banning partial-birth abortion.

“In Rigdon v. Perry, a federal court explained that when military chaplains are acting in a religious capacity—such as when conducting a sermon or offering an invocation—they are not acting under color of military authority, and ‘it is wholly appropriate for them to advance their religious beliefs in that context,’” Berry noted.

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“Thus, when military chaplains engage in religious conduct, their conduct is protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution,” he said, concluding that the U.S. Constitution, federal law and DoD regulations alike all permit chaplain-led prayer at military events.

“Moreover, those legal authorities actually forbid military commanders from censoring or prohibiting such invocations,” Berry contended.

FFRF, however, had asserted that the prayers conveyed a governmental preference for Christianity, which it contended was unconstitutional.

“Christian prayers delivered at an official military event violate the Constitution’s mandate of government neutrality between religious beliefs,” FFRF contended. “Any prayer—including non-denominational prayer—violates the required neutrality between religion and nonreligion.”

“By imposing prayer on its guardsmen at mandatory events, the Air National Guard is violating the constitutional limits on government religious endorsement,” it said.

The organization also opined that the inclusion of the prayers is “unnecessary and divisive,” as well as “coercive” and “insensitive.” FFRF said that the invocations exclude those who don’t identify as atheists, and noted that military members are “free to pray privately or to worship on their own time.”

“The Air National Guard must refrain from lending its power and prestige to religion, amounting to a government endorsement that excludes the over 23% of military personnel who either express no religious preference or are atheists,” it said. “It is also simply insensitive for a government employer to inflict prayer on employees regardless of their personal beliefs.”

FFRF had not released a statement on the base’s decision to disregard its demand as of press time.

According to an article entitled “Christianity and the Civil War,” thousands of soldiers in both the Confederate and Union armies turned to Christ and had a great desire to hear the preaching of the word of God.

“A ‘Great Revival’ occurred among Robert E. Lee’s forces in the fall of 1863 and winter of 1864. Some 7,000 soldiers were converted. Revivals also swept the Union Army at that time,” it outlines. “Sometimes preaching and praying continued 24 hours a day, and chapels couldn’t hold the soldiers who wanted to get inside.”

“Chapels often were built in soldiers’ quarters. In 1864, the Army of Northern Virginia alone boasted 15 chapels. One chapel built by the Army of the Tennessee seated more than 1,000 people,” the article notes.

In 1863, Gen. Lee said to his troops, “Soldiers! We have sinned against Almighty God. We have forgotten His signal mercies, and have cultivated a revengeful, haughty and boastful spirit. We have not remembered that the defenders of a just cause should be pure in His eyes; that ‘our times are in His hands,’ and we have relied too much on our own arms for the achievement of our independence.”

“God is our only refuge and our strength. Let us humble ourselves before Him,” he declared. “Let us confess our many sins, and beseech Him to give us a higher courage, a purer patriotism, and more determined will; that He will hasten the time when war, with its sorrows and sufferings, shall cease, and that He will give us a name and place among the nations of the earth.”

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  • Grace Kim Kwon

    Yes, Americans should submit to God alone and not to atheists. Submission to American atheists is a treason against the truth and against the nation’s founding and against human freedom.

  • Grace Kim Kwon

    No Christianity = No truth and no freedom. ( John chapters 1-8)

    • Rick Drywaal

      If the invocations only represent Christianity, then they’re unconstitutional. Thanks for the ammo.

      • Grace Kim Kwon

        Non-christian ideologies and pagan religions all seriously violate human rights and freedom. Mankind need Christianity for human rights and freedom and justice, not just for salvation from sin and death and hell. This century’s Western secularism prohibits morality, not just freedom.

        • Cady555

          You have a right to believe this. You DO NOT have the right to coerce any other person to pay lip service or deference to your warped and outdated mythology.

          • Grace Kim Kwon

            The Holy Bible is the truth and the Christianity is the only right religion. Non-christian West forces mankind to live out a falsehood and the depraved immorality. The West needs the Christian religion to have the truth and be humane.

  • InTheChurch

    two victory stories in one day

  • Guzzman

    Chaplains don’t have a right to use their government positions or authority to proselytize. Invocations involving prayers, bible readings, and references to a Christian god at mandatory ceremonies before captive audiences represent an unconstitutional government promotion of religion.

    According to Katcoff v. Marsh, military chaplains are limited to providing personal counseling to those who voluntarily seek assistance – “no chaplain is authorized to proselytize soldiers or their families.”

  • Rick Drywaal

    //A ‘Great Revival’ occurred among Robert E. Lee’s forces in the fall of 1863… Chapels often were built in soldiers’ quarters. In 1864, the Army of Northern Virginia alone boasted 15 chapels… In 1863, Gen. Lee said to his troops…//

    To make your case, maybe it’s not a good idea to reference examples of an extinct army that was fighting a war against the United States.

    • Ben Welliver

      Not extinct at all. The Capitol building in DC has several statues of Confederates in Statuary Hall.

      Oh, and ten US army bases – including the largest military base on the planet – are named in honor of Confederates.

      You better start fretting a lot, you’re going to be horrified at all the federal properties named after those “extinct” people you’re referring to.

      • Rick Drywaal

        Statues and buildings. But no army. That means it’s extinct… As in it no longer exists.

    • Cady555

      Robert E. Lee was a traitor who took up arms against the United States of America. He is not a role model to be emulated.

  • Cady555

    Requiring that a base full of soldiers with various and differing religious beliefs observe and participate in your religious ritual IS NOT “individual religious activity.”

    When other people are REQUIRED to observe and defer to your religious ritual it is no longer an “individual religious activity.” DUH

    Christians would not want to be required to observe Muslim prayers. They would not want to stand quietly at attention while an Imam offered prayers to Allah. In fact, this would violate the religious beliefs of many Christians.

    Why do you think it is okay to make non christians observe your religious rituals? Why do you think it is ok to make non christians stand quietly at attention as you offer prayers to your deity, a deity they do not share?

    Why can’t Christians treat others as they would demand to be treated?

    • Dan

      Same old left-wing cliches. Boring.

      • Cady555

        I betcha you wouldn’t find it boring if someone acting with government authority required you to listen to muslim prayers. I bet you would care really fast if you were required to politely listen as an Imam told you that you are worshipping the wrong god, that Allah as revealed in the Koran is the only true god, and that Jesus is nothing more than another prophet.

        You would not want someone acting with government authority to disrespect your beliefs.

        Do unto others….