Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Underming The First Amendment By Creeping Christian Prostelyzation

Cross posted from BFD Blog! & Sirens Chroncles:

The first amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

It is generally interpreted and generally agreed that the Establishment Clause in the first amendment establishes freedom of religion and also establishes that there shall be no state religion. This interpretation has stood the test of time and in fact, been upheld by the United States Supreme Court.

It seems, though, that certain segments of the American public, and certain officials (both government and military) are either not aware of this component of the Bill of Rights, or deliberately choose to ignore it. We have seen examples of this in civil life as government officials, who are first and foremost politicians always pandering to what ever special interests get them elected, enact various rules, policies and laws to intermix matters of religion in to state governance. This country was founded by people escaping religious persecution and domination, so that its citizens could each, by his own free choice, determine what, if any religious practice he or she would subscribe to.

A great segment of our society seems to have either never learned this lesson of our history, or simply choose to ignore it in their misguided belief that their religion commands them and all other men and women to conform to their one way of life and religion. They do not understand that no religion that forces its will, or what it believes is its God’s will on the entire human race is not something that is sacred, justified or a moral imperative, but rather an unjustified, morally repugnant imposition of their personal will on another human being. No human being has the right to do that, whether in their God’s name or any other name.

Something that the last eight years should have taught us, and something we may be falling prey to as we move forward in to a new era, is that the active prostelyzing by any religious group delivered via the offices or channels of government is a recipe for disaster. Ironically the “War on Terror” is a religious war, started and fomented by religious fundamentalists who would impose their beliefs, their will, upon the rest of the world, believing only in utter conformance to their particular religious and social values. This is what we have been fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2003. Yet our government officials, motivated by their personal desires to retain political power and office and subsequently our military officials, who take their lead or their orders from the politicians, have destroyed our credibility as the world paragon of religious and political freedom.

As told by Jason Leopold at The Public Record in his recent story titled “Military Entangled In ‘Extreme Missionary’ Christian Reality Television Show” our elected, and appointed government and military officials have permitted, in fact seemingly encourage, fundamentalist religious groups to prostelyze their particular religious values to citizens of another country that we occupy. Does it not occur to any of our government officials that by our forcing our own religious and moral values upon Afghanis we are doing the same thing as the Taliban. We are making the imposition off our will on other people, whether invited by those people or not, just as Al Qaeda tries to impose their values on the rest of human kind. How incredibly stupid and short sighted it that?

In his article, Leopold relates how fundamentalist religious groups have succeeded in “embedding” themselves in to military units on station in the war zone:
The popular reality series, “Travel the Road,” aired on the Trinity Broadcasting Network and featured Will Decker and Tim Scott, two so-called “extreme” missionaries who travel the globe to “preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth and encourage the church to be active in the Great Commission.”

The other cable program green-lit by the Pentagon is “God’s Soldier,” which aired in September on the Military Channel, and was filmed at Forward Operating Base McHenry in Hawijah, Iraq. It features an Army chaplain openly promoting fundamentalist Christianity to active-duty U.S. soldiers in Iraq in violation of the U.S. Constitution…

Part of the second season of “Travel the Road” was filmed on location in Afghanistan and aired in April 2006, where Decker and Scott were embedded with the Army, and shows numerous scenes of the men accompanying U.S. Army soldiers on patrol. The missionaries are also filmed evangelizing the local Afghans by distributing New Testaments to them in their native Darri language.

In one scene, an Army Chaplain named Capt. Brad Hanna of the Oklahoma National Guard, talks about the possibility of a “revival” in Afghanistan and says he frequently speaks to Afghans about converting to Christianity. Hanna was made a full-time support chaplain for the Oklahoma National Guard after he returned from Afghanistan.

Additionally, Decker and Scott prominently cite SSgt. Sheldon Hoyt, who was stationed in Afghanistan with the Oklahoma National Guard’s 45th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Battalion, 179th Infantry Regiment, as playing a hands-on role in helping the missionaries facilitate their proselytizing as opposed to simply being a tour guide of sorts…

Earlier this year, U.S. military personnel launched a major initiative to convert thousands of Iraqi citizens to Christianity also by distributing Bibles and other fundamentalist Christian literature translated into Arabic to Iraqi Muslims…

The distribution of the Bibles and Christian literature came at the same time that U.S. Marines guarding the entrance to the city of Fallujah handed out “witnessing coins” to Sunni Muslims entering the city that read in Arabic on one side: “Where will you spend eternity?” and “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16″ on the other…

“God’s Soldier” was co-produced by Jerusalem Productions, a British production company whose “primary aim is to increase understanding and knowledge of the Christian religion and to promote Christian values, via the broadcast media, to as wide an audience as possible.”

Before “God’s Soldier” aired on Sept. 10, the Discovery Channel, which owns the Military Channel, advertised the program by stating that it would feature several Army Chaplains from a wide variety of denominations discussing their work in the military.

“Follow a group of U.S. Army Chaplains from different faiths on a tour of duty in Iraq as they comfort wounded and dying soldiers, reassure panicked and depressed soldiers, as well debriefing those soldiers that return from their tours of duty,” the marketing literature for “God’s Soldier” said.

Instead, “God’s Soldier,” zeroed in on one chaplain, Capt.. Charles Popov, who appears in the first scene of the program in a godlike pose looking down upon the military base and urging soldier to attend Christian Bible study. [Astute readers will note that the Popov family name is a familiar one in terms of religious fundamentalists and tent meetings. -B.F.]

“Hey this is God,” Chaplain Popov says. “Come to Bible study tonight at 1900. Purpose Driven Life. You only have 25,000 days in your life, and probably half of it’s gone.”

The author of the book, “Purpose Driven Life,” that Popov referenced is Rick Warren, the leader of a fundamentalist mega-church in Southern California. In a recent interview with Fox News pundit Sean Hannity, Warren said, “the Bible says that evil cannot be negotiated with. It has to just be stopped…. In fact, that is the legitimate role of government. The Bible says that God puts government on earth to punish evildoers. Not good-doers. Evildoers.”

For the full context of all of this, Leopold’s full article is a must read. But don’t stop there, in a follow-up story, Leopold reports that this de facto policy of encouraging prostelyzation may continue in the new administration being sworn in on January 21. In his story titled “Prostelyzing In the Military Likely To Continue Under Obama”, Leopold relates:
But, now that Obama has decided to keep Robert Gates on as Secretary of Defense—and he’s embraced Warren—it is virtually guaranteed that fundamentalist Christianity will continue to permeate throughout the military just as it has during George W. Bush’s eight years in office.

Despite being named in several lawsuits filed against the Pentagon for allowing military chaplains to proselytize to soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the numerous letters he has received from civil rights organizations and government watchdog groups since he was tapped as Defense Secretary two years ago, letters demanding that he launch investigations into widespread proselytizing, Gates has failed to issue a response of any kind to these groups and has refused to take steps to address the matter. Meanwhile, soldiers continue to have fundamentalist Christianity shoved down their throats.

Of the nearly 11,000 soldiers that have lodged complaints about proselytizing with just one of the various government watchdog groups, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, reports that about 96 percent have identified themselves as Christian, however, there are numerous cases in which atheist and Jewish soldiers have said they were subjected to Christian prayer sessions and proselytizing by chaplains despite their objections.

This is all terrifying to freedom loving, individual Americans, who rightly fear the establishment of any religion as “the state religion”. Religion has a place in each individual’s life at a time and a place of each individual’s choosing, but it has no place being forced upon anyone. The recent brouhaha on these pages about Rick Warren performing an invocation at the presidential inaugural maybe be viewed as a bit over reactive by some, and when it comes down to it, I can ignore that small interlude, as I have done so in similar situations for my entire life, but why should it be foisted on me in the first place during an act of state ceremony, and it does make me fear what else religious extremists might want to force upon me, will I, one day be forced to wear a religious insignia on my clothing, have all of my worldly possessions seized, have my friends and family torn away from me, and find myself marching to a gas chamber, all in service to some one’s skewed belief that their God is God and is the only God?