The U.S. Army Just Lost A Battle It Shouldn’t Have Fought
June 17, 2015 (Mimesis Law) —
I do solemnly affirm that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter.
This is the oath of office prescribed by the United States Code for an individual accepting an office with the United States, including the military, when the individual does not wish to swear or to acknowledge a God or Gods. It comports with the requirements of the Constitution, Article VI, which requires all officers to take an oath to support the Constitution. Immediately following the requirement to take the oath is a clause prohibiting religious tests for public office.
This is what our Constitution provides, and if there is anything to take from the oath, it’s that the men and women of the military are prepared to fight, and if necessary, die, in the defense of that Constitution. It should not be controversial, therefore, that they honor it in their own actions. Yet, that isn’t always the case.
Recently Iknoor Singh had to go to court to force the United States Army to follow the Constitution and not discriminate against members of his religion. Iknoor is a Sikh, a religion that requires its men to have beards and to wear a turban, among other things.
Unfortunately, Lieutenant General James McConville, a product of the Catholic parochial school system, disagreed, and tried to argue that the Army had special circumstances which would justify blatant religious discrimination. Thankfully, the federal District Court for the District of Columbia disagreed and ordered the Army to admit Singh to the Hofstra University Reserve Officer Training Corps.
Sikhs have previously served in the U.S. Army, wearing their turbans and beards. Bhagat Singh Thind served in 1918 wearing both. They have served as Green Berets, as doctors and dentists, and as both enlisted men and officers. There is no reason why the Army could not accommodate them now, except for religious prejudice and bias.
This type of religious discrimination is not uncommon in the military—and is much more tragic because these military leaders swore an oath to protect religious rights when they became officers. And this is not the first time that it has happened.
The U.S. Air Force Academy had huge problems when it allowed Christian evangelicals to basically run wild and discriminate against non-evangelicals. Soldiers at Fort Eustis were confined to quarters and punished for refusing to attend an evangelical concert hosted by the commanding general.
At Fort Bragg, taxpayers funded an evangelical rally “to channel new believers into your church, so you can encourage them to further spiritual growth.”* An attempt to organize a similar rally for atheists and non-believers was met by hostility from the base.
An Army spokesman even made it a point to state that “We don’t treat soldiers who are atheists as atheists….” Excuse me, but exactly how are “atheists” supposed to be treated? Equally? Or as someone not exactly deserving of equality? Would it be appropriate to say that we don’t treat blacks as blacks, but as soldiers?
At Fort Hood, the presence of a pagan religious group brought calls from a congressman to ban all “witchcraft” from military installations. Thankfully the commanding general there remembered his oath and basically (although certainly more diplomatically) told the congressman to pound sand.
It is a shame that all military leaders, who took the same oath, don’t do the same when confronted by religious bias or prejudice. Americans, like Iknoor Singh, should not have to go to court to have their rights respected by the military. It should be automatic. After all, are these not the rights for which our military exists to defend?
*Justin Griffith, Ray Garton defends Foxhole Atheists, takes on Evangelicals, Pathos.com, Nov. 23, 2010 (last visited June 16, 2015).
**Colleen Jenkins, Military nonbeliever’s event shows there are atheists in foxholes, Reuters, Apr. 1, 2012 (last visited June 16, 2015) (quoting Col. Stephen Sicinski).