Religious Memorial Bills Join Long Line of “Christian Nation” Tactics
Congress is playing fast and loose with the sacrifices and courage of our nation’s heroes, and they’re doing it for all the wrong reasons.
- HR 290 encourages the use of religious symbols in war memorials
- HR 2070 would place a prayer on the WWII Memorial
The term “stolen valor” generally refers to a false claim of military service. This might be just being a veteran, claiming a medal not earned. The Supreme Court is currently determining whether instances of “stolen valor” are protected by the 1st Amendment. To greatly simplify the issue, the Court must decide if the 1st Amendment protects lying. Just as nefarious individuals sometimes claim national honors not theirs, individuals around this nation are claiming that their personal beliefs represent all military service.
At Mt Soledad in San Diego, in the Mojave Desert, at Bordelon Field in Hawaii, on Big Mountain in Montana, and at Camp Pendleton, large Christian shrines have been called war memorials with no purpose other than to give Christianity a privileged place in government. This tactic confuses the clear Constitutional issue separation of church and state with military service, aka stolen valor. [references]
Another kind of stolen valor is when our veterans organizations use power derived from the collective service of veterans to secure Christian privilege in government. In the Summum Court case, veterans organizations said that allowing non-Christian monuments to stand aside Christian monuments would somehow desecrate war memorials. In Houston, the VFW and American Legion have stepped on the wishes of grieving families to make Christianity the default religion at our national cemeteries.
More recent hysteria regarding an innocuous visitors policy at Walter Reed Hospital inspired a Rep. Steve King (R-IA) to turn the right to free exercise of religion into the right to proselytize wounded and ill service members. Hospital leaders have yet to determine whether they will bow to pressure and allow unregulated, unrestricted distribution of Christian materials to patients.
The Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers commends VoteVets.org, a national non-partisan group of progressive veterans, the People for the American Way, supporting pluralism and free exercise, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations in opposing the invitation of Lt Gen William Boykin, an officer with a long history of using his service to promote Christian nationalism and anti-Islamic rhetoric.
A recent documentary shows the Christian nation theology evident in these efforts. In King, North Carolina, a veterans memorial included a Christian flag. When Afghanistan veteran and MAAF member Steven Hewett advocated for government neutrality, hordes of Christians descended, showing admirable dedication to their Christian nation while showing deplorable and visceral hatred for those who didn’t share their beliefs. Protecting veterans has turned into making Christianity the religion of our government.
As Christians respect their dead and honor service members, they have every opportunity to pray at funerals if the family asks, to distribute Bibles to any patient who asks, to post any Christian symbol on private land, and to honor veterans on federal land with patriotic, non-sectarian memorials. But what some want are opportunities to replace the US Flag for a cross, to use a hospital as grounds for proselytism, and to ensure that Christianity is given center stage in memorial services and monuments throughout this nation. We should stay aware and active against these continuing issues. When will secular values inspire parades and vigils? For now, here’s how you can help; be sure to mention your military service, if applicable:
Even this long list of violations and ongoing issues are only a small subset of politicized, or Dominionist, Christianity. These efforts to Christianize memorials are tantamount to Christianizing our government. Christians may disagree, but most seem to be complicit with silence, along with Jews, Hindus, and Muslims who stand aside while these violations continue. MAAF continues to support atheists and humanists in the military, identifying these culture pressures and building a supportive community to weather the storm.