Christian strategy group convenes for Memorial Day
Bringing with it a suitably euphemistic and presumptive title, the American Religious Freedom Program (AFRP) has brought together Christian leaders intent on enshrining special privileges for Christianity in US law and government. While inviting complicit Jewish leaders and avoiding too much mention of Christianity, the intent was clear. In the tradition of the Liberty Legal, Alliance Defense, American Center for Law and Justice, the National Day of Prayer, and AFRP’s own parent the Ethics and Public Policy Center, AFRP promotes exclusively fundamentalist Christian rights and privileges while pretending to American liberties and true religious freedoms.
AFRP held its second conference on May 24th featuring five sessions with growing concern for the shrinking power of Christians to push their agenda in government with impunity. The fifth session was of primary importance to the military. Chris Lombardi, Government Relations Manager for the Secular Coalition for America, attended the event. The session was presumably focused on “defending religious diversity and freedom” but instead focused on fear about gays in the military. The speakers were particularly concerned with chaplains’ freedom to question DoD policy on gays serving after the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, worrying about gays marrying on military installations, and worrying about gays. “Religious Freedom” seemed to be limited to a very specific kind of freedom.
No concern was shown for religious diversity or freedom outside of freedom to discriminate. No concern was shown for true issues of freedom within the military. These include support by chaplains of atheists and humanists, the vast over-representation of Christians and especially evangelical Christians in a supposedly diverse Chaplaincy, and the lack of official recognition for humanist cadet clubs at the Academies. An objective panel might have been more concerned about the power and influence of political Christian organizations on military policy.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson of politicsusa titles his article on this Conference “Religious Bigots Gather” and reports these leaders are “taking advantage of our liberal tolerance to push their intolerant agenda.”
The five sessions of the Conference were titled (paraphrased) “shredding the fabric” of freedom, “unprecedented threats” to freedom, “uniting to preserve” freedom, constraining “overreaching” officials. and defending freedom for veterans. This whitewash of secular values should not distract from the markedly sectarian focus of the event. Of more than 20 panelists, nearly all represented extreme fundamentalist Christian views, with three Jewish panelists. William Galston of the Brookings Institute seemed to be the only attempt at diversity in the event.
Speaking at the military session were Ron Crews, Executive Director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty representing fundamentalist Christian chaplains, Kelly Shackelford, CEO of the evangelical Christian Liberty Institute, Orthodox Jewish Chaplain and Colonel Jacob Goldstein, and Matthew Franck, program director at the similarly-biased Witherspoon Institute. The headline of the panel was recently-retired Chief of Chaplains of the Army Major General (Retired) Douglas Carver. While the retired general can do what he likes, it seems he is most interested in promoting Christianity in the military.
Organizations wishing to discuss religious freedom and freedom of conscience within the military should seek some diversity of thought on their panels. The Forum is an organization of chaplains supporting open service for gays in the military. Interfaith Alliance and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State have strong records supporting Constitutional Freedoms and religious liberty for all. Organizations like the Alliance of Baptists and the Coalition of Spirit-Filled Churches are evangelical Christian organizations with a commitment to religious liberty. Inviting diversity in the discussion will illuminate issues, work toward resolution, and avoid the unnecessary worries many Christians have about their freedoms.
Additional Information about the represented speakers:
Chaplain (Colonel) Jacob Goldstein is an orthodox Jewish Rabbi and won his right to wear a beard in uniform due to his long years of service. He is expected to retire this year. He has expressed his outrage at increased rights for gays.
Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty requires of its members a profession of faith of fundamentalist Christianity and engages in efforts to ensure the chaplaincy and the military reflect their faith.
Liberty Institute promotes its successes in securing Christian privilege to put crosses on federal land, evangelize at public school functions, and even to evangelize grieving families at veteran funerals.
The Witherspoon Institute is an independent research center that works to enhance public understanding of the moral foundations of free and democratic societies. The Institute has recently published works defending heterosexual-only marriage, defining life from conception, and a work entitled calling religious freedom an “embattled human right”.