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An Open Letter to Barack Obama: Are You My President, Too?

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BARACK OBAMA RELIGION MILITARY
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Mr. President,

We don't have to look very far into our past to recall a time when a man of color holding the office you do now was not more than an idea relegated to the distant aspirations of young people and the musings of fiction writers. Yet here we are. It took the sacrifice of political capital and careers, endurance of public shaming, and in some instances death on the part of many once ordinary men and women who made the hard decisions necessary to bring about a society in which you could even dream to compete for such a prominent seat in government. Through those hard decisions they grew to be the giants of history on whose shoulders you now stand.

In 2006 you told me that you believed in a secular government. On this topic you said you were "hopeful that we can bridge the gap that exists, and overcome the prejudices that all of us, to one degree or another, bring to this debate, and [that you] have faith that millions of believing Americans want that to happen." While it is true that millions of believing Americans want that to happen, it is not those millions of moderates that are attempting to enact official state religions, restrict the freedom of women to decide whether or not to give birth, ensure the scientific illiteracy of our country's youth, allow parents guilty of the intentionally negligent death of their children to walk free, or dictate that nearly 9 million Americans do not deserve the privilege of marrying their romantic partner.

These theocratic leanings of our country are not spontaneous. Study after study has shown that non-believers are the least trusted group in this country, with public opinion putting us on par with rapists. All other qualifications aside, a mere 54 percent of Americans would even consider voting for a non-believer for president. While these figures may be unsettling, they cannot be of great surprise considering the efforts of Christian Dominionist leaders in our government today, such as my neighbor, Michele Bachmann. This same group rallies behind the 1954 and '56 additions to our American cultural heritage of the slogans "In God We Trust" and "One Nation Under God," actions which were an appeasement of Joe McCarthy's self-proclaimed "final, all-out battle between communistic atheism and Christianity." These words are not benign. They are an historic predecessor of modern Christian Nationalist rhetoric often echoed within the halls of government, and even through the ranks of our military. Rhetoric that bends policy.

As the Commander in Chief of our country's armed forces, you are in the position of command authority over those many men and women in uniform fighting for... something. I say it this way, because I have a difficult time believing that our military is fighting for the American way, the ideals of true liberty and justice for all that you and I were promised as children. Over half a century ago it was determined that the leadership of public schools could not lawfully abridge the freedom of America's children by requiring them to take part in daily prayers, yet today that same concern for the constitutionally assured freedom of religion of children is not afforded to soldiers. While some argue that the ceremonial deism we see in our military is encompassing of all people, I challenge that notion, along with tens of thousands of others. After all, what is the difference between compulsory prayer in a public school and compulsory prayer in public defense? While the tarnished history of our military in respecting the religious freedom of its members is nothing to be scoffed at, it would hardly be noteworthy if it were simply that: history. But when the Military Religious Freedom Foundation has more than 33,000 clients from every branch of service, our military is in need of reform.

If our leaders in government believe in a representative republic, I would ask that you produce for us a representative chaplaincy. As it stands, the chaplaincy does not come close to demographic alignment with the religious diversity of our armed forces.  If the purpose of the chaplaincy is to provide for the spiritual needs of our service members, admit to the need of Humanist chaplains as so many of our allied nations have already with nothing but positive effect.  If you believe that prejudice should be combated, instead of tolerated, I ask you to make a genuine effort to ensure that people like Major Jonathan "Christian Fighter Pilot" Dowty, are not given free reign to encourage bigotry loudly and publicly without punishment.

I am writing to you in the hopes that you have the courage to stand by your words, your expressed ideals, and your citizens. I am challenging you to take the time and to sacrifice the political capital necessary to genuinely pursue a more perfect union. I am writing this in the hopes that you could consider the defense of those who defend this country as something worth your attention, but more importantly, something worth investigation and remediation. There are a great many men and women struggling for equality and secular government, free from the tyranny of the majority, in this country: the ACLU, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the many member organizations of the Secular Coalition for America, and more. Will you rise to the challenge as well so that one day in the future my peers and those that follow will be able to stand on your shoulders, or will you leave that position to braver men?

Thank you for your consideration,

Blake A. Page
Military Religious Freedom Foundation
Special Assistant to the President
Director of West Point Affairs