By Michal Ortner
One Marine Corps base has a large sign outside its headquarters with the words “God bless the military, their families, and the civilians who work with them.” When a group complained about the mixing of religion and state, the base still refused to remove their sign.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) contacted Col. Sean Killeen, the commanding officer at the Hawaiian military base, to ask for the removal of the sign that makes mention of God. The sign has been present on the their grounds since the days following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks,
MRFF representative, Blake Page, said that the sign violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, which states “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Page suggested that the sign be moved to the chapel or simply removed and not posted again.
“This sign is a brazen violation of the No Establishment clause of the Constitution, as it sends the clear message that your installation gives preference to those who hold religious beliefs over those who do not, and those who prefer a monotheistic, intervening God over other deities or theologies,” Blake said in his email to Killeen.
“We recognize the value that religious activity brings to the lives of many,” he continued, “however, this sign is not in keeping with the time, place, and manner restrictions required by law [or] for any military commander to bolster religious principles through the official authority given to their rank and position.”
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) contacted Killeen as well, telling him that the MRFF had no legal case against their sign.
“As it stands, the sign is not grounds for an Establishment Clause violation. However, removal of the sign would certainly be in violation of the Establishment Clause, showing preference for no religion over religion,” Director of Military Affairs, Daniel Briggs, wrote.
“Our nation has many constitutionally permissible reminders of our historical and cultural roots, from our national motto, ‘In God We Trust,’ to ‘so help me God’ in the Commissioned Officer’s Oath to the presidential proclamations
accompanying each National Day of Prayer,” he continued.
“Several Supreme Court court cases and other federal cases, to include the 9th Circuit, support the conclusion that the message on the sign does not violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution,” Killeen wrote in response to MRFF. “‘God bless’ is commonly used in our culture in a number of contexts and there are numerous references to God in this nation’s symbols, songs, mottos and oaths.”
“To date, we have not received any direct complaints concerning this sign from service members or reports of service member complaints through any official chain of command,” Killeen continued. “We will always support all service members’ rights to pursue and practice their own belief sets, whether religious or not.”