When Mainstream Media Miss the Point
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Feb 08, 2007 at 11:52:07 PM EST
When government employees, whether school teachers, mayors or presidents abuse their positions of authority to impose their religious views on others; allow a culture of intolerance and bigotry to fester; and fail to protect the rights of others to believe as they will -- they are failing, arguably betraying, a central ethos of American culture -- respect for the beliefs of others and their right to believe as they will. But some opinion leaders seem to be falling under the sway of the religious right in their refusal to acknowledge abuses of power by government employees; abuses  that are violative of the establishment clause of the first amendment, and in their trampling on the rights of individuals, the free exercise clause as well.

 This was on vivid display at a December discussion of religion and the Founders in Washington, DC titled, The Christmas Wars: Religion in the American Public Square, presented by the Pew Center on Religion and Public Life.

The event came the day after The Washington Post broke the story that the Christian Embassy, a project of Bill Bright's Campus Crusade for Christ, had produced a promotional video featuring seven top Army and Air Force officers in uniform, apparently against Pentagon regulations.

 

"I found a wonderful opportunity as a director on the joint staff, as I meet the people that come into my directorate," Air Force Maj. Gen. Jack J. Catton Jr. says in the video. "And I tell them right up front who Jack Catton is, and I start with the fact that I'm an old-fashioned American, and my first priority is my faith in God, then my family and then country. I share my faith because it describes who I am."

Pete Geren, a former acting secretary of the Air Force who oversaw the service's response in 2005 to accusations that evangelical Christians were pressuring cadets at the Air Force Academy, also appears in the video. The Christian Embassy "has been a rock that I can rely on, been an organization that helped me in my walk with Christ, and I'm just thankful for the service they give," he says.

The Pew event featured presentions by neo-conservative scholar Michael Novak of the American Enterprise Institute, and Jon Meacham, managing editor of Newsweek, who has written a book on the subject, and initial responses by liberal columnist E.J. Dionne and Michael Cromartie of the neo-conservative Ethics and Policy Center, who helped to organize the event. (Interesting that the liberals are represented by journalists and the conservatives are neo-conservative think tankers.)  Their presentations and the ensuing discussion before an audience comprising, it seems, mostly journalists, is interesting. But for me the most remarkable moment was during the Q & A, when Washington Post reporter Ruth Marcus asked about the revelation of ranking military officers collaborating with  the Christian Embassy in uniform, on duty and appearing in a promotional video for the group.  The panelists successfully evaded the many serious implications of the story, including the inherently coercive nature of religious prosylization by military superiors, pretending that among other things, Marcus is somehow talking about banning military chaplains.

RUTH MARCUS, THE WASHINGTON POST: I wanted to ask about a phenomenon I think is more difficult than the issue of Christmas trees or crèches, an activity that has become more pronounced in recent years - the particular focus has been evangelizing in the military. My colleague, Alan Cooperman, had an excellent, thought-provoking story in the paper yesterday about a group called Christian Embassy.  

They've taken the video off their website, but if you really search the Internet, you can still find it. This video has a number of high-ranking military men - I think they are all men - in uniform talking about how faith is very important for their lives, how proselytizing is important to their lives, and how Christian Embassy has become an integral part of their ability to live their lives fully and do their jobs.

I find myself wishing we could go back to talking about crèches because I find that much easier. As a member of a minority religion, if you gave me a choice between walking into a government building with a crèche in the front of it, with candy canes or no candy canes, or working in a government workplace where almost everybody was gathered at prayer breakfasts or Bible study sessions during the day that did not include my religion, and from which I felt excluded, and professionally disabled, if not incapacitated, I would go for the crèche.

On the other hand, I entirely respect people's commitment to their religion, the fact they don't take off from their beliefs between 9:00 and 5:00. I find it very confusing to figure out how, to use the language of the court, to accommodate that without endorsing it and without discomforting others.

First, Michael Novack dodges the core point of the question, and so moderator Luis Lugo of the Pew Center picks up on the point and directs the question to E.J. Dionne, who was a responder on the panel:

LUGO: The particular concern here is not just evangelism generally but evangelism in the armed forces. There are issues of authority. Can you respond freely to these things when it's your superior officer? It's the specific context that heightens concern about evangelism, and not just evangelism as such, although some people have problems with that too.

Dionne then proceeds to invalidate Marcus' main concern by claiming:  

"If we press this to the limits, we are going to have to get rid of the chaplaincy. Because if someone is using their authority in that way and insisting any limitation on that authority will violate their free-exercise rights, then we are not going to be able to have a military chaplaincy."

MARCUS: I don't think that would solve the problem.

UNIDENTIFIED: Getting rid of the chaplaincy?

MARCUS: Yes, because you would still have evangelical Christians in - and I'm not suggesting we get rid of the evangelical Christians - (laughter) - let me be clear.

DIONNE: You don't have atheists in foxholes, right, or we'll be in trouble.

MARCUS: The chaplaincy may be a place where the problem manifests itself, but you could stay away from the chaplains. It's more difficult if it's the Air Force secretary or your commanding officer rather than the chaplain who is not necessarily in the line of command [above] you.

MEACHAM: E.J., you say if we press it to the limit, we have to get rid of it. If you press any of this to the limit, the American experiment of religious liberty falls apart. We're trying to have it both ways; classically American. We are trying to have a religious disposition - it's at the heart of our public discussion - and yet we want to protect the ability of those who don't want to participate. It's fundamentally in conflict, and it's a tension we're going to have to live with until the last day.

Meacham's response was a little better, he ends up in the same place as Dionne.  While it is true, as Meacham says, that there will always be tensions in a religiously pluralist society, he does not address the matter at hand, rather he says "if you press any of this to the limit, the American experiment of religious liberty falls apart."

Hmm. As much as I admire Meacham's book and the many good things he has to say about religion in American history, this is a precise evasion of the question. The context of senior Army and Air Force officers discussing how prosylzation is central to their work as military officers is better understood in terms of the recent prosylization scandals at the Air Force Academy and the culture of religious bigotry and coercion that has festered in the armed services, and especially in the Air Force for a long time.    

A few weeks later, The Washington Post got it right in an editorial:

With its extensive, inside-the-Pentagon footage and interviews with senior officials and high-ranking officers in uniform, the video conveys a sense that the group's mission has been endorsed by the Pentagon; it carries no disclaimer. Robert Varney, the group's executive director, says the Pentagon chaplain's office gave permission for the filming and that it's no surprise that military officers, interviewed at work in the Pentagon, were in uniform. But following a complaint by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the video has been removed from Christian Embassy's Web site and the Pentagon is reviewing the matter. As it does so, it would be wise to consider not only whether the video and the Christian Embassy's other activities comply with the letter of Pentagon rules but also with the spirit of the Constitution its personnel are sworn to protect.

(For political background, see Jeff Sharlet's post at The Revealer: Inside Christian Embassy.)

Funny that none of the Pew panelists seemed to understand that while military officers have a right to believe as they will, they do not have a right to coopt public institutions for purposes of prosylization, nor may they abuse their positions as officers to impose their beliefs on others.




Display:
Four leading thinkers on matter of religion and public life at a presigious, foundation funded event in front of their colleagues from the media and think tankery; an event where they publish a transcript -- and not one can even acknowledge the abuses of power exposed in The Washington Post the day before the conference, even after prompting by the moderator.

by Frederick Clarkson on Fri Feb 09, 2007 at 01:09:47 AM EST

DIONNE: You don't have atheists in foxholes, right, or we'll be in trouble.

Why do so-called "liberals" like E.J Dionne have to parrot right-wing myths?

-------------
"I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair" - JFK, Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association
by hardindr on Fri Feb 09, 2007 at 07:29:19 AM EST



WWW Talk To Action


Cognitive Dissonance & Dominionism Denial
There is new research on why people are averse to hearing or learning about the views of ideological opponents. Based on evaluation of five......
By Frederick Clarkson (175 comments)
Will the Air Force Do Anything To Rein In Its Dynamic Duo of Gay-Bashing, Misogynistic Bloggers?
"I always get nervous when I see female pastors/chaplains. Here is why everyone should as well: "First, women are not called to be pastors,......
By Chris Rodda (46 comments)
The Legacy of Big Oil
The media is ablaze with the upcoming publication of David Grann's book, Killers of the Flower Moon. The shocking non fiction account of the......
By wilkyjr (32 comments)
Gimme That Old Time Dominionism Denial
Over the years, I have written a great deal here and in other venues about the explicitly theocratic movement called dominionism -- which has......
By Frederick Clarkson (39 comments)
History Advisor to Members of Congress Completely Twists Jefferson's Words to Support Muslim Ban
Pseudo-historian David Barton, best known for his misquoting of our country's founders to promote the notion that America was founded as a Christian nation,......
By Chris Rodda (37 comments)
"Christian Fighter Pilot" Calls First Lesbian Air Force Academy Commandant a Liar
In a new post on his "Christian Fighter Pilot" blog titled "BGen Kristin Goodwin and the USAFA Honor Code," Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan......
By Chris Rodda (33 comments)
Catholic Right Leader Unapologetic about Call for 'Death to Liberal Professors' -- UPDATED
Today, Donald Trump appointed C-FAM Executive Vice President Lisa Correnti to the US Delegation To UN Commission On Status Of Women. (C-FAM is a......
By Frederick Clarkson (35 comments)
Controlling Information
     Yesterday I listened to Russ Limbaugh.  Rush advised listeners it would be best that they not listen to CNN,MSNBC, ABC, CBS and......
By wilkyjr (36 comments)
Is Bannon Fifth-Columning the Pope?
In December 2016 I wrote about how White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who likes to flash his Catholic credentials when it comes to......
By Frank Cocozzelli (23 comments)
Ross Douthat's Hackery on the Seemingly Incongruous Alliance of Bannon & Burke
Conservative Catholic writer Ross Douthat has dissembled again. This time, in a February 15, 2017 New York Times op-ed titled The Trump Era's Catholic......
By Frank Cocozzelli (19 comments)
`So-Called Patriots' Attack The Rule Of Law
Every so often, right-wing commentator Pat Buchanan lurches out of the far-right fever swamp where he has resided for the past 50 years to......
By Rob Boston (33 comments)
Bad Faith from Focus on the Family
Here is one from the archives, Feb 12, 2011, that serves as a reminder of how deeply disingenuous people can be. Appeals to seek......
By Frederick Clarkson (64 comments)
The Legacy of George Wallace
"One need not accept any of those views to agree that they had appealed to real concerns of real people, not to mindless, unreasoning......
By wilkyjr (11 comments)
Betsy DeVos's Mudsill View of Public Education
My Talk to Action colleague Rachel Tabachnick has been doing yeoman's work in explaining Betsy DeVos's long-term strategy for decimating universal public education. If......
By Frank Cocozzelli (27 comments)
Prince and DeVos Families at Intersection of Radical Free Market Privatizers and Religious Right
This post from 2011 surfaces important information about President-Elect Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. -- FC Erik Prince, Brother of Betsy......
By Rachel Tabachnick (36 comments)

Respect for Others? or Political Correctness?
The term "political correctness" as used by Conservatives and Republicans has often puzzled me: what exactly do they mean by it? After reading Chip Berlin's piece here-- http://www.talk2action.org/story/2016/7/21/04356/9417 I thought about what he explained......
MTOLincoln (54 comments)
Fear
What I'm feeling now is fear.  I swear that it seems my nightmares are coming true with this new "president".  I'm also frustrated because so many people are not connecting all the dots! I've......
ArchaeoBob (32 comments)
"America - love it or LEAVE!"
I've been hearing that and similar sentiments fairly frequently in the last few days - far FAR more often than ever before.  Hearing about "consequences for burning the flag (actions) from Trump is chilling!......
ArchaeoBob (30 comments)
"Faked!" Meme
Keep your eyes and ears open for a possible move to try to discredit the people openly opposing Trump and the bigots, especially people who have experienced terrorism from the "Right"  (Christian Terrorism is......
ArchaeoBob (76 comments)
More aggressive proselytizing
My wife told me today of an experience she had this last week, where she was proselytized by a McDonald's employee while in the store. ......
ArchaeoBob (32 comments)
See if you recognize names on this list
This comes from the local newspaper, which was conservative before and took a hard right turn after it was sold. Hint: Sarah Palin's name is on it!  (It's also connected to Trump.) ......
ArchaeoBob (35 comments)
Unions: A Labor Day Discussion
This is a revision of an article which I posted on my personal board and also on Dailykos. I had an interesting discussion on a discussion board concerning Unions. I tried to piece it......
Xulon (39 comments)
Extremely obnoxious protesters at WitchsFest NYC: connected to NAR?
In July of this year, some extremely loud, obnoxious Christian-identified protesters showed up at WitchsFest, an annual Pagan street fair here in NYC.  Here's an account of the protest by Pagan writer Heather Greene......
Diane Vera (31 comments)
Capitalism and the Attack on the Imago Dei
I joined this site today, having been linked here by Crooksandliars' Blog Roundup. I thought I'd put up something I put up previously on my Wordpress blog and also at the DailyKos. As will......
Xulon (32 comments)
History of attitudes towards poverty and the churches.
Jesus is said to have stated that "The Poor will always be with you" and some Christians have used that to refuse to try to help the poor, because "they will always be with......
ArchaeoBob (34 comments)
Alternate economy medical treatment
Dogemperor wrote several times about the alternate economy structure that dominionists have built.  Well, it's actually made the news.  Pretty good article, although it doesn't get into how bad people could be (have been)......
ArchaeoBob (32 comments)
Evidence violence is more common than believed
Think I've been making things up about experiencing Christian Terrorism or exaggerating, or that it was an isolated incident?  I suggest you read this article (linked below in body), which is about our great......
ArchaeoBob (31 comments)
Central Florida Sheriff Preached Sermon in Uniform
If anyone has been following the craziness in Polk County Florida, they know that some really strange and troubling things have happened here.  We've had multiple separation of church and state lawsuits going at......
ArchaeoBob (38 comments)
Demon Mammon?
An anthropologist from outer space might be forgiven for concluding that the god of this world is Mammon. (Or, rather, The Market, as depicted by John McMurtry in his book The Cancer Stage of......
daerie (38 comments)
Anti-Sharia Fever in Texas: This is How It Starts
The mayor of a mid-size Texan city has emerged in recent months as the newest face of Islamophobia. Aligning herself with extremists hostile to Islam, Mayor Beth Van Duyne of Irving, Texas has helped......
JSanford (33 comments)

More Diaries...




All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. Comments, posts, stories, and all other content are owned by the authors. Everything else 2005 Talk to Action, LLC.