Politics Archive

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Air Force Makes Religious Oath Mandatory

U.S. Air Force LogoI just recently wrote an article that referenced the recent Navy Bible brouhaha, A Response to Ben Carson's Comments on Navy Bible Kerfuffle. Now, it seems like another branch of the military is violating people's Constitutional rights, and this time in an even more blatant manner.

An article on Military.com, Air Force Restores 'God' to Enlistment Oath describes the issue. There's a line in the Air Force oath of enlistment or reenlistment that says "So help me God". It seems that the Air Force had made that line optional, but has now reversed that decision and has made it mandatory again.

The American Humanist Society has gotten involved on behalf of an atheist airman, and it seems that the Air Force might be taking the complaint seriously. According to a more recent article in The Stars and Stripes, Air Force seeks DOD ruling on re-enlistment oath, the Air Force went to the DoD's top lawyer and is currently waiting on an opinion on the issue. I would think the decision should be easy enough to make, since Article VI of the Constitution makes it quite clear:

no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

Requiring someone to make an oath to God seems a blatant violation of that clause. And it's not like the previous compromise was hard on theists at all. It wasn't removing the God reference to make the oath secular (which is what I'd really prefer). The 'so help me God' language was optional. Christians and Jews could still say it if they wanted to, while non-theists weren't forced to lie. But apparently, even that was too much for some brass in the Navy, who have made the oath mandatory again.

It seems pretty cut and dried to me, but with the way things sometimes go and the special treatment Christians seem to get in this country, I wouldn't be surprised if they tried to keep the God part of the oath mandatory.

Image Source: Dobbins Air Reserve Base

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P.S. If you really want to despair for our nation, go read the comments. Yes, there are several people with rational takes on the issue, but a lot more comments than I'd like to see supporting the mandatory oath. Here's a sampling.

nice to see that someone in the military has finnaly grown a PAIR
Very refreshing to see the US Air Force stand up against political correctness (much of what is wrong with this country) and the courage to stand up for God. God bless America, the foundation of this country.
The enlistment oath is correctly worded ! Deal w/it or don't sign the dotted line! It's that SIMPLE!
He doesn't have to stay in. He can believe in whatever he likes but, he can believe it as a civilian. Sick of all the whiners and liberals that think EVERYTHING should be because they want it. Atheism is stupid anyway. Don't believe in anything. When you die, we can just leave you on top of the ground for the buzzards. Time to pay back all the crap they've dished out to Christians. Notice they have said NOTHING about Islam? Wonder why?!


So as not to end this entry leaving a bad taste in your mouth or thinking that all Christians are so pig-headed, here are a couple good comments.

As a retired Chapel Manager I've got to say the USAF is flying too high on this one. If this Airman doesn't believe in God his oath to God becomes meaningless. It only had value to those who believe in God. It's like forcing a Christian or Muslim to give an oath to a fence post. What value would that promise have?
I'm a fundamentalist Christian but I find it immoral to force someone to in essence lie when taking an oath. In addition, as a conservative constitutionalist who served to support and defend the Constituyion, I also find it offensive to force someone to take recognize a religious tenet in order to serve in the military or any other government position.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Response to Ben Carson's Comments on Navy Bible Kerfuffle

Ben CarsonBen Carson has apprently just won a GOP straw poll in Indiana, getting a whopping 67% of the votes (see Christian Post - Ben Carson Wins Polk County, Iowa GOP Presidential Straw Poll by a Landslide; Says ISIS Must be Dealt With). His next closest rival, Ted Cruz, only received 7%, with Rick Perry in third with 4%, followed by a scattering of of several other potential candidates. I know it's awfully early to start taking these types of polls too seriously, and I suppose it's somewhat good news that Cruz and Perry weren't in the lead, but Carson isn't a whole lot better.

I've mentioned Carson on this blog once before in the entry, Local University Invites Creationist to Give Commencement Address (with the local university being Midwestern State University, an otherwise respectable institution). I made note of some extremely ignorant statements Carson had made about evolution, as well as his well-known bigoted remarks against homosexuals.

With Carson's recent straw poll win making headlines, I decided to Google his name just to see what else he was up to, and came across an article he'd written about the recent Navy Bible kerfuffle, Atheists forgetting the meaning of freedom: Nonbelievers seek to impose their values by banning Bibles. For anyone unfamiliar with this issue, the Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta, has a pretty good article, After Atheists Blow the Whistle, U.S. Navy Says Bibles Must Be Removed from Base Hotel Rooms. Basically, hotels run by the Navy had Bibles in the night stands, which may seem fairly standard given that practically every hotel room in the U.S. has a Gideon's Bible, but the Navy is a government institution, and per the Establishment Clause, isn't supposed to endorse religion. The Freedom From Religion Foundation got on the case, and the Navy originally agreed to remove the Bibles, but seems to have backtracked for the time being (as detailed in verse by the Digital Cuttlefish, Armageddon Gets Results; Navy Puts Bibles Back In Hotel Rooms).

Now, while it would be nice to see the Navy keep Bibles out of hotel rooms, out of all the issues in the country today, this one's a pretty low priority. But you can guess that certain right wing Christians were outraged when the Navy first removed the Bibles, which brings us back to Carson's article. I'll start off with the quote that ties in most closely to politics, and the fact that Carson just might be a potential presidential candidate.

We must also go back and read the Constitution, including the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of religion. It says nothing about freedom from religion and, in fact, if you go back and look at the context and the lives of those involved in the crafting of our founding documents, it is quite apparent that they strongly believed in allowing their faith to guide their lives.

Yes Dr. Carson, we are guaranteed the freedom of not having religion imposed by the government. To quote the Constitution since you brought it up, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." That has been repeatedly interpreted by the Supreme Court to mean that government cannot endorse religion. And putting the holy book of one particular religion in a government run facility is endorsing that religion.

I don't doubt that many of the Founding Fathers were Christians and deists who were strongly motivated by their faith in how they lived their lives. But that's separate from how they framed the government. It's very telling that there is no mention of God in the Constitution (other than the convention of the date - year of our Lord). Even more explicitly, there's the Treaty of Tripoli, unanimously approved by the Senate in 1797, which contained the phrase, "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion..." The majority of the founders wanted a secular government, keeping religion and government separate so that neither would interfere in the other (more info - Response to an Editorial by Pat Boone).


This next passage is the worst one from the article, and what motivated me to write this entry.

This last sentence may seem out of place if you don't realize that atheism is actually a religion. Like traditional religions, atheism requires strong conviction. In the case of atheists, it's the belief that there is no God and that all things can be proven by science. It is extremely hypocritical of the foundation to request the removal of Bibles from hotel rooms on the basis of their contention that the presence of Bibles indicates that the government is choosing one religion over another. If they really thought about it, they would realize that removal of religious materials imposes their religion on everyone else.

That is just plain idiotic. If lack of religious materials imposes atheism, then I'm surrounded by atheist propaganda, from the weather report on the 10 o'clock news, to the donut shop on the corner, to the stop light on my way home. If they don't hang a crucifix at the intersection, they're shoving atheism down our throats!

If the FFRF were demanding copies of Why I Am Not a Christian, The God Delusion, or God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, then Carson could claim that they were imposing their beliefs on everyone else. But as it is, they're simply asking for religious neutrality.

He also seems to paint with a pretty broad brush in saying atheists believe "all things can be proven by science". Heck, I'm rather scientific minded myself, but even I wouldn't go that far. 'Science as the most reliable method of answering questions with objective answers?' Sure (see my article, Confidence in Scientific Knowledge). But it's not magic that will answer any and all questions ever posed. And there are plenty of atheists who aren't necessarily of a scientific bent (see for example, Massimo Pigliucci's article, On the scope of skeptical inquiry).


The FFRF even offered what seemed to me a good compromise, making Bibles available to the guests that wanted them, along with other religious materials for other guests. Carson didn't seem to like that idea.

Some atheists argue that there should be a library or cachet of religious material at the check-in desk of a hotel from which any guest could order a Bible, Torah or Koran for their reading pleasure. No favoritism would be shown through such a system, and those who reject the idea of God would not have to be offended. This is like saying there shouldn't be certain brands of bottled water in hotel rooms because there may be guests who prefer a different type of water or who are offended by bottled water and think that everybody should be drinking tap water. The logical answer to such absurdity would, of course, be that the offended individual could bring his own water or simply ignore the brand of water that he does not care for.

Except that choosing bottled water isn't a Constitutional issue like the Establishment Clause. Really, this type of complaint by Carson just drives home how much this issue is about privelege, and not freedom of religion. The FFRF offered a solution that still made Bibles available to Christians. Not only would a Christian have the right to 'bring his own water' in the form of a Bible, but the front desk would even have extra Bibles on hand for the Christian who forgot their own personal copy. If that's an unacceptable compromise, then you're really arguing for special treatment, not just freedom.


Here's a quote I couldn't resist turning around on Carson.

As a nation, we must avoid the paralysis of hypersensitivity, which will allow us to get nothing done because virtually everything offends someone. We need to distribute "big boy" pants widely to help the whiners learn to focus their energy in a productive way.

I agree with the sentences, but not what Carson meant by them. Some books were taken out of hotel rooms. No one is stopping you from taking in your own Bible to read. Put on your 'big boy pants' and get over it.


This final quote came from near the start of the article, but considering how the situation has turned out, I figure it goes better here at the end of this entry.

The surprise is not the hypocritical stance of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, but rather the fact that an established bulwark of American strength and patriotism caved to a self-serving group of religious fanatics.

I wish I could say I was surprised "that an established bulwark of American strength and patriotism caved to a self-serving group of religious fanatics", but that's the special treatment Christians seem to get in this country.


I wasn't impressed by Carson last year when MSU invited him to give the commencement address, and this recent article has only hurt his reputation in my eyes. If this is the best hope for a Republican presidential candidate for 2016, I sure hope the Democrats come up with somebody electable. (Maybe I'll just vote for Kodos.)

Image Source: Christian Post, Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Updated 2014-09-10: Added link to my Confidence in Scientific Knowledge essay.

Updated 2014-11-17: Added note about the Treaty of Tripoli.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Comparing Platforms - One More Strike Against the Current Republican Party

PoliticsWith my recent posts on politics prompted by the latest Texas GOP platform (see the entry, The 2014 Texas Republican Platform, and the Follow-Up), I've spent a little time looking at political party platforms.

I pulled a few planks from two different platforms for a comparison. Below is a table comparing them. See if you can guess who the parties are.

Party A Party B
We support this and his further offer of United States participation in an international fund for economic development financed from the savings brought by true disarmament. We support United States withdrawal from the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, and the World Bank.
To meet the immense demands of our expanding economy, we have initiated the largest highway, air and maritime programs in history, each soundly financed. We call for all transportation and fuel taxes collected to be used for road construction, improvement, and maintenance only. We resolve that tax revenue derived from gasoline taxes and all other taxes/fees on our vehicles (including vehicle sales tax) should only be used for highway construction, and not be diverted to any other use, including mass transit, rail, and bicycle paths.
We shall continue vigorously to support the United Nations. We support the withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations and the removal of United Nations headquarters from United States soil.
Clarify and strengthen the eight-hour laws for the benefit of workers who are subject to federal wage standards on Federal and Federally-assisted construction, and maintain and continue the vigorous administration of the Federal prevailing minimum wage law for public supply contracts; We urge Congress to repeal the Prevailing Wage Law and the Davis Bacon Act.
Extend the protection of the Federal minimum wage laws to as many more workers as is possible and practicable; We believe the Minimum Wage Law should be repealed.

It's actually a bit of a trick question. Party A is the 1956 national Republican Party (avaiable at The American Presidency Project). Party B is the 2014 Texas Republican Party (available at TexasGOP.org). Man, what a difference 58 years can make.

I've pulled a few more highlights out below the fold, if anyone's interested in reading them. By and large, it's a platform that I wouldn't mind supporting. Sure, there are some areas of disagreement, but it's a rational platform with reasonable approaches to addressing issues. It's nothing like the current Texas GOP platform, which as I described in another entry, "seems like the type of ranting you'd hear from your crazy uncle at family reunions, not the official platform of what's supposed to be a respected political party."

Man do I wish the Republicans would return to something like what this 1956 platform represents, so that there could be sensible discussions on politics, and that elements like the Tea Party would retreat back to the fringes where they belong.

Continue reading "Comparing Platforms - One More Strike Against the Current Republican Party" »

Friday, July 18, 2014

The 2014 Texas Republican Platform - Follow-Up

Republican ElephantI'd originally posted my entry on the latest Texas GOP platform based on a draft version of the platform. Now that the official platform has been released, I went and updated a few of the quotes to match the final version, and tweaked a bit of my own commentary. If you want to read this updated version, you can find it at the same place as before, The 2014 Texas Republican Platform.

To add a bit more to this post to make it somewhat worthwhile, I did some word counts on the platform to see how often religious themes came up, since it seemed like quite a bit when I was reading it. The count was nothing fancy - just typing a word into the search box in Adobe Reader and counting how many times Adobe found it. And for comparison, I did the same thing with the Democratic Party platform. Below is the table of how often each term appeared. For reference, there are 37-38 pages of content in the Republican platform (depending on if you consolidate the pages that were only half full), and 61 pages of content in the Democratic platform.

# Appearances of Terms in Party Platforms
Term Republican Democratic
judeo-christian 4 0
christian 5 0
faith 7 2*
faith based 5 1
god 12 1
bible 3 0
church 4 2
religious 19 9
religion 2 8
*Technically, faith was in the Democratic platform 3 times, and faithfully once, but only two of those instances were in a religious sense.

For the Republicans, that's an awful lot of religion squeezed into a political party's platform for what's supposed to be a secular government with separation of church and state. The Democratic Party platform has much less overtly religious language, which is an even starker contrast considering their platform is 1.7 times longer. And the context was different, as well. The Democrats mostly wanted to protect religious freedom, while keeping government and religion separate. The vast majority of the references in the Democratic platform were in the section, 'Religious Freedom', where you'd expect them to be, not interspersed throughout the platform in unrelated sections like foreign policy.

I've come across a few good articles from other sources addressing this platform. They're much shorter that what I wrote, which is probably a good thing since they're the right length to keep people interested. Having reviewed the platform myself, I can say that the selection of planks in those articles isn't cherry picking, but representative of the overall craziness and extremism. So, if you think my post is overwhelmingly long, or you want to see what other people have to say, here are the links. The first one from the New Yorker is my favorite.

Updated 2014-07-18: Added the Democratic Party column to the table and the related commentary.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Foreshadowing of More Shenanigans from the Texas SBOE (Social Studies Textbook Review Panels)

TEA LogoWell, the Texas State Board of Education looks like it might be preparing for another foray into the culture wars rather than just focusing on sound education. According to a recent release from the Texas Freedom Network, SBOE Politics as Usual: Textbook Review Once Again Plagued by Lack of Expertise, a few of the board members have appointed idealogues to the Social Studies and economics textbook review panels, rather than qualified academics or historians. To quote from the release:

TFN analyzed panels assigned to review textbooks for courses such as U.S. and world history, geography and economics. Out of more than 140 individuals appointed to the panels, only three are current faculty members at Texas colleges and universities. TFN has identified more than a dozen other Texas academics including the chair of the History Department at Southern Methodist University as well as faculty at the University of Texas at Austin who applied to serve but did not get appointments to the panels.

But the TFN analysis found that political activists and individuals without social studies degrees or teaching experience got places on the panels. One reviewer, Mark Keough, a Republican nominee for the Texas House District 15 seat, got an appointment to a U.S. History panel after being nominated by SBOE chair Barbara Cargill. Keough, a pastor with degrees in theology, has no teaching experience listed on his application form. Keough recently told the Montgomery County Tea Party that he does not "believe that there is a separation of church and state in the Constitution."

Ugh. I hope that in the end it's no worse than the science textbook review process, where the idealogues only had minor influence in the process, and in the end, the textbook manufacturers didn't capitulate to unfounded objections. And the current SBOE isn't quite as crazy as it was a few years ago, so maybe that'll be the case, but their past performance still has me worried.

If you want to do something about this, you can go visit the TFN page to sign their petition, or of course, write your representative on the SBOE.


For background, and why I'm so worried about this news, here are my previous blog entries dealing with Texas education issues (in chronological order, with the newest at the top). Like I've probably said before, there are a lot of good things about Texas, but the politics can be infuriating sometimes.

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