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June 2015

Archive for June 2015

Should an Atheist Become a Military Chaplain?

The BecketFund for religious liberty

A Message from the Executive Director
Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Dear Friends,

As July 4 approaches, I think of all those who have made our freedom possible. This July 4th I am especially thankful for the work of the Chaplaincy as they celebrate their 240th anniversary later this month.

The work of the Chaplaincy has had personal significance to me. The first time my husband deployed he explained that should anything happen, the chaplain would come to notify me. For many months after his deployment I dreaded seeing any car I did not recognize approach our small cul de sac. I lived in fear of that visit.

The in-person chaplain visit never came to me. But it came to several of our friends. It came to our friends whose 19-year-old son was killed in action. His mother was not allowed to see her son’s remains, so when the casket arrived, she lay under the table that held it. She explained to me she did this because her son was still growing when he left for deployment, so she was unsure how tall he was when he died. Another friend of ours came back to find divorce papers. He took his own life by hanging himself over a nearby bridge. Another suffered a car accident during deployment. He was in terrific shape—he had run the Marine Corps marathon with my husband—so he was shipped home. He died a few months later of an aneurysm while flipping burgers at his church’s picnic. It was the chaplain who was always present while our friends grieved in unimaginable ways.

Anyone associated with the military has a deep respect for the job the chaplain performs. And a deep appreciation of what religious belief can mean to those serving and to their families.

It is particularly repugnant to me that the militant atheists of the Humanist Society, part of the American Humanist Association, recently argued in court that they deserve to be called a religious organization and have their own chaplain. These are the same people that are being defended by an organization that has called the chaplains, among other things, “spiritual rapists.”

Are there patriotic atheists? Absolutely. Should they be able to serve in the military? Of course—no one is arguing otherwise. Instead we see militant atheists who have devoted themselves to mocking religious belief, who have launched campaigns against believing teenagers by making fun of their “imaginary friends,” now pushing to taint the work of the chaplaincy. What do they plan to say to soldiers dying on the battlefield? What hope do they plan to give believers?

Since we were created over 20 years ago, we at Becket have been defending both the religious liberty of service members and the ability for chaplains to serve our military.

Over 20 years ago, when we litigated and won our first military chaplain case, Rigdon v. Perry, we protected the rights of preachers to speak freely about moral matters from the pulpit.

We are now defending religious liberty in the military on two fronts. On one hand, we are fighting to make sure that the Navy is not forced into offering one of the few chaplaincy spots to atheists who mock religious belief.

On the other, we are fighting so religious service members are able to serve. Two weeks ago a district court agreed with us when it ruled that if the military can grant hundreds of thousands of exemptions to its uniform policy, including Mickey Mouse vampire tattoos, it has to allow a Sikh college student to join his ROTC unit without having to cut his hair or remove his turban.

As our friends at the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty stated in their statement praising the court decision: “Protecting religious liberty is a crucial source of our nation’s military strength.”

I wish I could say that the days when I feared that car pulling up to my house are long gone. As my college-bound daughter joins her NROTC unit, I will once again begin to wonder at cars I do not recognize. I am glad that our work at Becket allows me to fight on a different front—one where religious service members can serve and one in which the chaplaincy remains a source of strength and hope for those who, like my family, believe in the transcendent.


Kristina Arriaga
Executive Director

When Is It Time To Let Go?

A Message from the Executive Director
Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Dear Friends,

A few days ago my daughter graduated from high school. I am very proud to share that she is following in my husband’s footsteps by going to college on an NROTC scholarship to later pursue a career in the military. (I should clarify: My husband is a retired Marine. My daughter is joining the Navy. He calls the Navy “the Marine’s taxi service.” However, at least for this one last summer, he has agreed to leave intra-service rivalry alone.)

Since the Cuban-American side of my family is really into family celebrations, many of my relatives flew in from other parts of the country to share the day with her. On graduation day, we happily hosted over 70 relatives and friends at our house. The weather was glorious and we sat on our deck playing table games, eating BBQ, and remembering grade school stories about our own kids while they played touch football and cornhole.

The days leading up to graduation I felt a complex set of emotions. Among them were happiness, gratitude, and fear for her future. I found myself looking back and looking ahead at the same time. In the evenings preceding the graduation, I indulged in looking at her baby albums and shedding a tear or two.

Graduations, as you know, are bittersweet. My childhood friend Ana tells me they are one more marker of what we are called to do at our age. We are called to “let go.” Let go of our youth and of our children. That’s tough to hear. I don’t know about you– but I am pretty attached to both.

All I can do now is hope that everything we taught her at home, she takes with her. After all, we raised her—and our two younger boys–in a certain way. This is what all Americans are entitled to do. We expect her to not only to live according the convictions we treasure—we expect this inalienable right will be respected and protected both in college and in the military.

Regrettably, as you know, this is not the case in many colleges. The incidents are downright Orwellian.

Take Constitution Day. September 17–a day in which we Americans should all take out our own copy of the Constitution and, at a minimum, read the Bill of Rights.

In 2013, Robert Van Tuinen, a student at California’s Modesto Junior College (MJC), was told that he could not hand out copies of the U.S. Constitution—on Constitution Day–anywhere on campus except at the college’s designated “free speech zone,” and then only after getting permission well in advance. (And here I was thinking that all of America was a “free speech zone”! How naïve.)

Our friend, Greg Lukianoff at Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) carefully documented this story as well as example after shocking example in his must-read book:Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate.

After FIRE assisted Van Tuinen in reaching a settlement with his college—and I find this part so enraging—Lukianoff described in a Huffington Post column what happened to the student and the teachers who supported him:

“Not only did MJC Chancellor Joan Smith publish an op-ed after the settlement with the unbelievable assertion that MJC did not prevent Van Tuinen from handing out Constitutions, but it has also gone after Van Tuinen’s supporters. William Holly,a professor who publicly stood up for Van Tuinen, has paid a high price for his integrity. For the first time in his career, he received a critical evaluation and has been forbidden from developing material for his classes, except for articles that have appeared in a peer-reviewed journal–a requirement that the American Association of University Professors has called ‘novel and strange.’ Most recently, MJC informed Holly that he will no longer be able to teach ethics, as he has done for years. Holly is not alone. Leslie Beggs, an English instructor, had a job offer temporarily withdrawn when the dean was forbidden from hiring her because of her ‘scathing’ op-ed supporting Van Tuinen in the fall of 2013.”

So, if a student cannot pass out a copy of the Constitution and the teachers that supported him suffer retaliatory action, how does religious liberty fare on college campuses?

Well, in many campuses religious diversity is no longer considered an asset. In fact, not only are many campuses forbidding religiously-affiliated student groups access to campus–they are forbidding them from selecting the criteria for their own leadership. Want to have a sorority with girls with girl leadership? Sure! Want to have a Jewish group with believing Jews are leaders? Hmmmm, not so much.

Additionally, as you may remember, just last March, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) actually questioned whether a Jewish student who practiced her religion would be unbiased enough for student government. By UCLA standards, religious belief may make you, well, unfit for office. Our own Adele Keim wrote an oped for the San Francisco Chronicle about this incident.

I am sure you will agree with me that this is all wrong.

No student entering any college in America should have to shed his or her beliefs in order to succeed in college or in life.

In fact, I work at Becket, so that our children will be able to live according to their beliefs and so that they will have the right to raise their own children just like my husband and I did—in our own way, according to our own deeply held convictions.

So, while I may have to let go (very reluctantly) of my youth and my children, there is one thing I am not letting go of: the fight to protect our rights. And, I can assure you, no one else at Becket is either.

Kristina Arriaga
Executive Director

P.S. How about freedom in the military? More about that next time. Meanwhile, on June 30 we celebrate the one-year anniversary of our Hobby Lobby win where the Supreme Court agreed with us at Becket that the Green family of Hobby Lobby had the right to continue to live and conduct their business according to their deeply held convictions. The Supreme Court also agreed that the government’s attempt to force the Greens to pay for drugs and devices against their beliefs under the penalty of fines was unconstitutional. (Did you know that the Greens paid and will continue to pay for 16 contraceptives and that they have no objection to any employee using the other 4? They just cannot pay for them. And, did you know that the government exempted millions of Americans from having to comply with this mandate but is still in court trying to force the Little Sisters of the Poor to pay for contraceptives?)