Religious Freedom and the Military Community

Recently, I have been following a back-and-forth discussion that has been unfolding on the pages of the “Opinion” section in the military newspaper, Stars and Stripes. Several weeks ago, someone wrote in and commented on how they felt military chaplains should not be paid by the government for the work they do. In this writer’s opinion, chaplains are devoted to religion, and therefore this crosses over the separation of church and state.

Since this writer’s opinion appeared, Stars and Stripes have printed several responses. Some of these responses condemned this soldier for his opinion, while others agreed. To me, it speaks volumes to what the military represents. The military is a community, a microcosm made up of diversity, different beliefs, different ideals, and differences of opinions; yet they are able to shed their views, and work together when it really counts.

Then, a few weeks ago, an actual chaplain wrote in to express his thoughts on the topic of whether chaplains are necessary in the military. He almost sold me, especially, when he stated that chaplains are for WICCANS too. I was so proud seeing someone pushing for tolerance and acceptance of all the many differences that go into making up a military community. Of course, the sentiment was lost in his next line, where he went on to spread misunderstanding and misinformation, in regards to Wiccan and Pagan beliefs. He expressed that Wiccans and Pagans could and would be furnished a place for their worship, but would not be allowed to sacrifice animals or humans in the chapel, and then equated them to Satanists with their usage of satanic bibles. What this comment possibly did was isolate any soldier or family member that may have different spiritual faith or no faith, from actually searching out the assistance of a military chaplain. His words have incited intolerance against a group who does not practice what he deems mainstream and acceptable religions. This chaplain, who is supposed to represent the military, has disseminated erroneous information, which will feed right into all the many that may blindly follow anything that is said by someone who is supposed to be an authority on theology, feeding into the spread of intolerance based on lack of knowledge.

So, in one breath this chaplain acknowledged that we all have equal access to religious freedoms, because chaplains are for all; and in the next, he managed to isolate and spread false accusations against Wiccans and Pagans. After reading his piece, I was left feeling like, “What did a Wiccan or Pagan ever do to him to have caused him to be so full of animosity for a group he obviously has little understanding of.”
It saddened me to think that there is a chaplain being paid by the government to isolate a group who does not share his faith or the faiths he believes are acceptable.

I grew up in a mixed faith family, one part Catholic, one part Jewish. I grew up in an area where religious acceptance was like second nature, and if you had no faith, so what. It just was not a big deal, and spirituality was personal and respected. Did my Great-Grandfather shun me because I was baptized Catholic and not raised in his Jewish faith, a faith he was quite proud to be part of? No, he loved me, taught me about his religion, and told me how lucky I was to be able to learn about both. He gave me my first lesson in religious tolerance and freedom.

After I became a military spouse, I was privileged to move around a lot. Living on many different bases, over the last 17 years, has opened my eyes to much. Out of all the bases I have been stationed at, there have only been two that carried Hanukkah and Passover cards in the BX. Moreover, I might add, the selection was small. I hope that this has changed over the years. In addition, I have yet to be at a base that puts up an equally elaborate display of a Menorah as they do with regards to a Christmas tree. Of course, I have questioned this, and was told the chapel hosts the Jewish festivities, and all other faith’s festivities. Oh, so that means the Jewish population in our military community do not warrant a huge menorah display, but those of the Christian faith can expect to see a huge Christmas tree, and have a festive lighting ceremony to go with it. There are not just Christians or those of Jewish faith, in the military, what about other spiritual faiths and their festive celebrations? Do they not count? I know, I know, they cater to the majority faith.

This brings me back to the chaplain situation. I have always believed their role was and still is very needed, and noble. They do deploy with our soldiers, and they do offer that comforting encouragement and counsel that is often needed during times such as these, especially. They have been commissioned to do this selfless job since the times of our founding fathers. They are at the beckon call of every soldier who desires their guidance and words. Chaplains do serve the needs of the soldiers and even family members.

However, after reading the opinion of this one chaplain, I am left thinking how many more with that attitude are out there. In that case, they should not be on the military pay roll. Because, they are spreading intolerance and misrepresenting their position, while isolating certain groups of soldiers who may have a different spiritual faith or no spiritual faith. How can we expect the civilian population to believe the military serves to protect their freedoms, when we have certain factors within whom subscribe to the opposite? I truly hope, and believe that this one chaplain does not speak for all chaplains. In addition, I believe that the military is making small waves of change in respect to acceptance of those with non-traditional religious practices as well as those who do not practice a faith at all. I say this because of the growing number of soldiers and family members who are beginning to speak up and out about their differences in faith, their non-faith, and even their differing political views. I am one of them.

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