By Victor Ochieng
Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), an atheist organization based in Wisconsin, has sent a letter to the Pease Air National Guard Base leadership, asking them to declare that reading of scriptures during ceremonial prayers at New Hampshire Air National Guard Base contravenes the United States constitution.
In their letter, the group noted with concern that a guardsman had reached out to them informing them about the Bible readings and prayers led by a chaplain.
“Christian prayers delivered at an official military event violate the Constitution’s mandate of government neutrality between religious beliefs,” FFRF contended. “Any prayer—including non-denominational prayer—violates the required neutrality between religion and nonreligion.” The letter continued, “By imposing prayer on its guardsmen at mandatory events, the Air National Guard is violating the constitutional limits on government religious endorsement.”
Besides saying that prayers conducted during a mandatory event go against the constitution, they also added that they’re coercive, insensitive, “unnecessary and divisive.” They said such invocations exclude atheists, pointing out that members of the military have all the freedom to “pray privately or to worship on their own time.”
“The Air National Guard must refrain from lending its power and prestige to religion, amounting to a government endorsement that excludes the over 23% of military personnel who either express no religious preference or are atheists,” it said. “It is also simply insensitive for a government employer to inflict prayer on employees regardless of their personal beliefs.”
FFRF requested that a formal assurance in writing be made that prayers would be stopped so as to “protect the rights of conscience” of guardsmen, particularly those who don’t hold similar religious beliefs to those of the chaplain.
“We ask that you protect the rights of conscience of every guardsman by ending the practice of including prayers at official ceremonies and other events,” FFRF wrote. “Please inform us in writing of the actions that you intend to take to address this issue so that we may notify our complainant.”
Although no official communication has been received from the base, Un.S. Air Force Chaplain Sonny Hernandez told Christian News Network that the prayers aren’t against the constitution since the reference document doesn’t forbid the inclusion of God in military occasions, neither does any military policies demand such.
“There is nothing in the Constitution, military policies, rules, law, or regulations that prohibit a military chaplain from offering prayers or Bible study to service members, as chaplains are mandated to perform their duties at all times, which are compatible with their respective ecclesiastical endorsing requirements,” he said.
Hernandez said that whenever prayers are offered, no member is forced to join in and there is no disciplinary action against such an officer.