Radicalism. The accusation of radicalism brings to mind a variety of emotive responses. Unbridled passion. A lack of reason. Mania, perhaps. So what would a radical agenda consist of? A message of hate or supremacy seems to fit the bill. What about a message of radical empathy? Is it possible for an individual or organization to be so hell bent on the insurance of liberty and justice for all as to be labeled with such a slur? I would say no, but Colonel (Chaplain, U.S. Army) Retired Ron Crews has established an opposing position in his statements included in an article published this week.
"The military unfortunately has been yielding to a radical agenda to the point of even allowing same-sex marriage at the historic West Point Chapel," Col. Crews laments. "But yet they are unsure, it appears, that allowing prayers at official events can be continued."
This piggybacking of the ideals of religiosity and ideals of segregation is precisely the sort of thinking which myself as the Director of Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) Affairs at West Point and the rest of the MRFF team continue to combat at every turn. Of course not all (I may dare to say not even most) people of faith consider an empathetic respect of the lifestyle choices of the LGBT citizens of this nation to be a radical position. Sadly, religion remains as the only point of reference to support argumentation against equality on this front. How else does one justify the provision of all benefits commensurate with lawful marriage to loving couples with dissimilar genitalia, while denying it to those whose preference in partnership is those of their own gender? The slippery slope which leads to condoning of bestiality and incest is one way. Or the ever-popular "it's unnatural and I don't like it" argument if you prefer. If these arguments appear valid to you, dear reader, I must let you know now that you do not possess the intellectual qualifications to find edification in this article.
The military today continues to fail to provide benefits to same-sex couples who may be legally married in any of several states. This is because the military is a federal organization, subject to federal law. Law which has made it possible for national organizations to disregard the legally binding documents issued on the state level. Perhaps it is radical for me to believe that the federal government should not reduce the rights of a certain demographic in this way without simultaneously establishing that all state-issued documents are invalid in the eyes of federal institutions. Perhaps equality is radical.
At this point we have meandered far enough away from the topic of mandatory prayer in the military as to need clarification on how these issues are related. Statements of men like Colonel (Chaplain, U.S. Army) Retired Ron Crews, or Republican strategist Shirley Husar are reflective of a genuinely held belief that our country is, has always been, and should always be a nation led by religion. Almost comically, the position of conservatives on theocracy is strongly negative... when that theocracy is one of Islam of course. And yet at home where we have a nation which allows laws to be passed which cause very real harm in the lives of millions based solely in the edicts of faith, these people do not flinch. Peculiar, isn't it?
It is my understanding that the remediation of this intolerable nonsense requires a change in our culture and our national dialogue. There are many means to that end. The abolition of prayer at compulsory events led by state entities is one of them. It is not unreasonable for
children conservatives to assert that this is a religious nation with the assumed right to establish theocratic policy so long as we allow formal practices to reflect the same. There is no such thing as a secular and all-inclusive prayer, and there are no circumstances where prayer ought to be made a part of a formal, mandatory, state-sponsored event.
If this is unconvincing to you, if you believe we live in a country of religious liberty, I encourage you to ask yourself these questions and genuinely reflect on the answers you arrive at:
• Why was there such upheaval at the mere suspicion our current president might be a Muslim during his first campaign?
• Why is Islamaphobia so prevalent in the U.S. that holding books about Muslim culture in a library is seen as a threat against Christianity?
• Why was Mitt Romney's eligibility as a presidential candidate determined by the acceptance of Mormons as a viable form of Christian by the electorate?
• Why do we continue to discriminate against homosexuals by law?
• Why are official military emblems being used in the endorsement of one religion over all others?
• Why are the reproductive rights of women even a question?
• Why is scientific illiteracy in the form of creationism still allowed to be taught in public schools in some parts of this country?
• Why did the early absence of invoking some people's god during the Democratic National Convention attract more media attention than the ongoing slaughter in Syria?
• Why does the military continue to so ardently oppose providing equal resources to non-religious groups?
• Why did Bob Kerrey have to be so careful to avoid letting his personally held philosophical beliefs become public knowledge?
• Why do so many military units continue to insist on branding themselves as Crusaders, spreading the word of Christ through war?
This is not an issue for atheists. This is not an issue for gay people. This is not an issue for Muslims. This is not an issue for the military. This is an issue for Americans of every creed, color, orientation, profession, and political persuasion. Any policies which dictate discrimination for whom we might desire to bind ourselves with in mutually consenting matrimony, whether or not we bend our knee on Sunday, what hand we prefer to write with or what hue of fabric we may choose to wear on any given day stand hand-in-hand in the realm of archaic absurdity. We can and must do better. We can and must respect existence, or expect resistance.
"I wore black because I liked it. I still do, and wearing it still means something to me. It's still my symbol of rebellion -- against a stagnant status quo, against our hypocritical houses of God, against people whose minds are closed to others' ideas."
- Johnny Cash