In Theory: Is the United States making a right turn?

The U.S. Navy, which earlier began allowing "humanist" as a designated religious preference despite the fact that many humanists are atheists, recently rejected its first application from a humanist chaplain.

Days later, the U.S. Senate approved a bill that would allow a prayer plaque in the National World War II Memorial, ignoring the voices of those who believe it is not appropriate to place a prayer on public property. Assuming the bill is approved by the House and signed into law by the president, the plaque would contain a prayer President Franklin D. Roosevelt offered over the radio on D-Day, the Allied push that led to the end of that war. Both of these events came on the heels of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that a New York town did not violate the Constitution by allowing Christian prayers before monthly meetings.

Q: What do you make of these decisions, which all seem to lean toward upholding traditionally held values at a time when the nation has been moving away from the tenets of conservatism?

Let's address each of these decisions individually. Humanism and atheism are broad-ranged philosophies, but they are not specific faiths, so it is senseless to appoint chaplains under these designations. The prayer plaque is appropriate as the memorial of a historical event, and we shouldn't miss the fact that God actually answered President Roosevelt's prayer. Allowing a Christian minister who has been invited to give an invocation to pray as a representative of his faith is an exercise of constitutionally protected freedom. The fact that many people in America are turning further away from God does not mean that people who have faith in Him are wrong, and no longer have rights, and should be marginalized and silenced. Our Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from it. Apart from all the rhetoric the solid fact stands that there is a God who made us and loved us enough to sacrifice his son Jesus for us. He has always been there for us to call upon in our times of trouble, and in troublesome times our nation has always done that. His word through the prophet Isaiah will always stand the tests of time and the back-and-forth of popular opinion: "Turn to Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other."

Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist Church


It seems to me that "moving away from the tenets of conservatism" is just a euphemism for "moving away from the belief in God," and if the nation is going away from that we should immediately repent. Imagine the leader of our country, our wartime President, calling out to God to end the Holocaust, to stop Hitler, and to bring an end to a world war, and God answers by blessing our endeavor on D-Day (the day that turned the conflict and ultimately brought it to an end). Imagine that — God actually answering prayer in the affirmative, and then "humanists," 70 years later, profaning that moment and wanting to censor a fact of history because it makes mention of their divine arch nemesis.

Modern humanists do not believe in God; they think they are superior to mere religionists, calling themselves "free thinkers," but God is the greatest humanist of all, calling humans to think in tandem with omniscient revelation. Any thinking that does not also take Him into consideration is faulty thinking, emasculated thinking, and is what's truly enslaved.

Should our irreligious service people, those denying both Heaven and its Host, "One nation under God," and "In God we trust" be afforded a religious chaplain? What would that look like; a collared representative who "consoles" soldiers with their impending nonexistence as they lie dying in battle, or who gives motivational "you can do it without the Declaration's God" speeches while back at base? Let the religious have our "crutch" of clergy, and let the humanists defectively think for themselves, "free" from nonsensical chaplains and the extra expense to "We the people."

The Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church


Whether the Navy has atheist, humanist, or any chaplains at all isn't high on my list. Let's take excellent care of our military personnel in body and in mind during and after their service, starting with not sending them on impossible, soul-destroying missions.

I find the decision about the prayer plaque disappointing, short-sighted, and puzzling.

Disappointing because a Christian prayer at the National World War II Memorial clearly violates the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution and illegally mixes church and state.

Also disappointing is that in approving the bill the U.S. Senate used the unanimous consent procedure, which omits floor debate and recorded votes. Voice objections are allowed but both Senators from California were silent. Shame on them for not standing up for civil liberties and ultimately for religious freedom.

Senators Boxer and Feinstein and their colleagues have taken a knee-jerk, short-sighted action which officially inserts a particular religion into our public life and diminishes the rights of us all to practice any religion or none. I hope that when the bill returns to the House, our local Rep. Adam Schiff does a better job of standing up for all of us.

This decision puzzles me because it reflects a huge Congressional misread of U.S. social reality. Religious affiliation continues to decline. The February 2014 New Republic documents "a wave of secularism" sweeping the country. The 2008 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), conducted by Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., reveals that the number of nonreligious adults more than doubled between 1990 and 2001, and that "nonreligious" is the fastest growing segment of the population.

The 2013 ARIS focused on college students and found that they are split almost exactly into thirds — one-third religious, one-third secular and one-third spiritual but without religious affiliation. Of the spiritual, 80% doubt the existence of any god. Thus over half of all college students are not believers.

Our elected officials need to face facts and their actions better reflect our society. It is interesting to note that FDR's prayer, while invoking the Christian god, also called for "faith in our sons, faith in each other, faith in our united crusade." Sounds like humanism to me.

Roberta Medford


Each of these decisions follows a separate logic that makes me skeptical that they represent a trend. I struggle a bit with the notion that these moves involve the tenets of conservatism since liberal-minded Christians, Jews, Hindus, Baha'is, Buddhists, and so on, also petition deities.

With respect to the D-Day monument, Roosevelt's prayer is appropriate because it is a historical document that articulately expresses the desperation and danger of the Normandy landings. But for a few strokes of good fortune, the Allied soldiers might have been defeated and the war prolonged. Roosevelt's words also are a historically accurate reflection of the religious nature of 1944 America. But even looking at Roosevelt's prayer from a 21st century perspective, there is nothing in it that is overtly sectarian. The prayer appeals only to God, a universal term for a supreme being.

Regarding the Navy's rejection of humanist chaplains, the Navy's website lists specific responsibilities that include conducting services and performing rites that, in the eyes of believers, are sacred. There is a legitimate question how a man or woman who doesn't believe in God can do these things with credibility. I suspect that this concern played into the Navy's deliberations.

In the case of prayers at town meetings, the Supreme Court noted that the invitation to pray was open to members of all faiths — not just Christian. Had this invitation been exclusive to a particular belief, the court would likely have ruled differently.

All of that said, it is surprising in today's social climate to see these decisions. Too often, religion has been marginalized in American public life, often to the detriment of our society.

Michael White
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
La Crescenta

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