The Military Evangelical Christianity And The Constitution
The Military, Evangelical Christianity, and the Constitution
Prepared for: Judge Jack Delaney for POLS 430
Fall Semester, 2007
K. Mark Northrup
December 13th, 2007
What is Religion? .....................................................................................................1
Diversity of Religious Belief in America c.a. 1750-1800.......................................2
Factors affecting the Thought of the Framers on Religion.....................................3
Religion, the Military, and the American Vision ..................................................6
Pre World War II.....................................................................................................6
Post World War II Religion and the U.S. Military .................................................7
Christian Reconstructionism, Dominionism, and U.S. Military.............................8
United States Air Force Academy........................................................................9
Potential Issues and Arguments Before the Court ................................................11
Religion, for good or ill, has played a major role in the history of the United States, both
during its time as a British colony and as an independent nation. The Framers wisely sought to
craft a constitution that divorced government from religious institutions in such a way that left
individuals free to believe as their individual consciences dictate. In the words of James
Madison, the author of the Bill of Rights,
“Congress should not establish a religion and enforce the legal observation of it by law,
nor compel men to worship God in any manner contrary to their conscience, or that one
sect might obtain a pre-eminence, or two combined together, and establish a religion to
which they would compel others to conform” (Annals).
For the military forces of the United States, arguably the most important line in the
Constitution is Article VI, Section III, which states that:
“…no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public
Trust under the United States.”
Today, there is a pervasive trend throughout the U.S., in both the civilian government and the
military that threatens to undermine our Constitution. The United States dispensed with the idea
of “divine right of kings,” but over the last 50 years, some individuals and groups have sought to
replace the “divine right of kings” with the idea that all laws and civil authority are rooted in
divine authority and therefore are subject to it.
What is Religion?
For this discussion, a precise definition of “religion” is required before moving on. What is it
that separates religion from philosophy or from a devoted NASCAR fan? Human beings are
social animals, and with so much of religious observance being a very social activity, it is hardly
a surprise that it shares many features in common with other social activities. When all of
humanity still lived as hunter-gatherers, religion served to codify group morality. (Shermer, 20)
It is important to be clear here lest what is being said is taken out of context…religion did not
create human morality, it merely provided a narrative basis, consistent with a pre-scientific
humanity’s understanding of the world and ourselves, for why people, as the social scientist
Michael Shermer so succinctly put it, “lie, cheat, share, care, and follow the golden rule.”
In Malnak v. Yogi (592 F.2d 197 (3d Cir. 1979)), Judge Adams devised three criteria for
determining what does or does not constitute a religion:
1. A religion deals with issues of ultimate concern; with what makes life worth living; with
basic attitudes toward fundamental problems of human existence.
2. A religion presents a comprehensive set of ideas--usually as "truth," not just theory.
3. A religion generally has surface signs (such as clergy, observed holidays, and ritual) that
can be analogized to well-recognized religions.
While few would argue that all religions definitely have the above characteristics to some
degree, there is something missing. What has been said thus far could apply equally to moral
philosophy as well as to what most people would identify as a “religion.” So again, what is it
that makes religion different? There can only be one answer…religion differs from philosophy,
art, history or any other area of human endeavor in that there is an inescapable element of belief
in the supernatural.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary “supernatural” is defined as
1. Of or relating to existence outside the natural world.
2. Attributed to a power that seems to violate or go beyond natural forces.
3. Of or relating to a deity.
4. Of or relating to the immediate exercise of divine power; miraculous.
5. Of or relating to the miraculous.
Where else are all of the above ideas found but in religious belief systems?
Diversity of Religious Belief in America c.a. 1750-1800
In the half-century between 1750 and 1800 the Religious life of the colonies, and later the
states, was split into a diverse number of sects. The sheer number of sects, many of which have
not survived into our time, was believed by many to present an effective bulwark against any one
of them making a ‘power grab.’ Additionally, the ideological divides between them was
believed sufficient to prevent their acting in concert to influence the machinery of government.
James Madison said during Virginia’s Ratifying Convention:
“If there were a majority of one sect, a bill of rights [not yet written, though some were
convinced one was needed] would be a poor protection for liberty. Happily for the states,
they enjoy the utmost freedom of religion. This freedom arises from that multiplicity of
sects, which pervades America, and which is the best and only security for religious
liberty in any society. For where there is such a variety of sects, there cannot be a
majority of any one sect to oppress and persecute the rest…A particular state might
concur in one religious project. But the United States abound in such a variety of sects,
that it is a strong security against religious persecution, and it is sufficient to authorize a
conclusion, that no one sect will ever be able to outnumber or depress the rest.” (Quoted
in O’Brian, 690)
Madison would be shocked and surprised to learn of the degree to which the various sects are
cooperating today, constituting, for electoral purposes, the very majority he spoke of. Today we
have national, trans-denominational groups whose sole purpose is to influence local, state, and
national policy to bring it into alignment with these groups shared religious dogmas.
Factors affecting the Thought of the Framers on Religion
The religious wars that plagued Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century
C.E. were very much on the minds of the Framers. As Thomas Jefferson wrote to Alexander von
“History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free
civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well
as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.” (Letters of
A phrase frequently found in the writing of the framers is “religious opinions” and this bears
some examination (cf. T. Jefferson, Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom). What is a “religious
opinion”? Is it a belief in some religion or another, or is it a belief about religion, either
generally or specific to a particular belief? It will be argued here that a “religious opinion” can
be either, just as “political opinion” can mean an opinion about politics as a human activity or
about a particular kind of politics, i.e. liberal vs. conservative.
The Establishment Clause reads:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the
free exercise thereof…”
What does “free exercise” mean in the context of the time it was written? One way of
approaching this question would be to ask; in what ways was the exercise of religion not free
prior to the passage of the first amendment? Perhaps the best description of how the exercise of
ones religion was not free is contained in the prohibitions on the state in The Virginia Act For
Establishing Religious Freedom, written by Thomas Jefferson in 1779 and passed by the General
Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1786, which reads in part:
“Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to
frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be
enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise
suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to
profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the
same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities” (Thomas
It is contended here that, to be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or
ministry, and being forced, restrained, molested, or burdened in their body or goods, or
otherwise being made to suffer on account of their religious opinions or belief; and not being
free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, without
diminishing, enlarging, or affecting their civil capacities, is the antithesis of “free exercise” and
the degree to which government either explicitly or tacitly permits the above to occur is the
degree to which said government action violates the free exercise clause.
One way in which the free exercise of religion in the colonies was stifled was that religious
sects deemed undesirable were harassed out of existence, largely through legislative or executive
limitations on fundraising and church-building. At the very least, they were politically and
socially marginalized. The main danger of which the framers were aware of was that of using the
powers of “the state” to prevent citizens from having free access to the forms of religious
worship most congenial to their conscience (cf. the histories of the State of Maryland and Rhode
What the framers did not foresee was individual religious sects or coalitions of sects
attempting to turn the public square into a means of providing a “captive audience” for their
religious proselytizing. In Lee v. Weisman (505 U.S. 577, 112 S.Ct. 2649 (1992)), the Supreme
Court heard the case of a Jewish father who objected to prayers during the commencement
ceremonies his children attended. Weisman sued in federal court and won the initial case and the
governments appeal. The case went before the Court and was again decided in Weisman’s favor.
In his dissenting opinion, Justice Scalia denies:
“…that the dissenter's interest in avoiding even the false appearance of participation
constitutionally trumps the government's interest in fostering respect for religion
It is this writer’s contention that Justice Scalia’s attitude is erroneous and is precisely the
problem that the free exercise clause was designed to prevent. One should not have to take
extraordinary measures to avoid religious expressions or activities which one finds
unconscionable, just as all citizens are free to seek out those religious expressions which are
most congenial to their conscience. Entering into a house of worship, one knows what they are
getting into and all are free to enter or not as they choose and the form of worship therein will be
free from unreasonable (and in the opinion of some, even reasonable) governmental restrictions.
In a situation like the one that precipitated Lee v. Weisman, the inclusion of religious elements in
a civil, secular occasion in the name of, in Justice Scalia’s words “fostering respect for religion,”
transformed a civil ceremony into an act of, at least partially, compulsory religious piety. In the
absence of compelling arguments or evidence to the contrary, it is safe to assume that none of the
devoutly religious attendees were in danger of being prevented of attending the house of worship
of their choosing at their customary times, whatever they might be. If perhaps a substantial
percentage of the community were Seventh Day Adventists and the commencement were
scheduled for a Saturday afternoon, a case could be made for the school district being
“unaccommodating,” but that is not this case, and that bridge will be crossed when society comes
Under the interpretation presented here, the essence of the “free exercise” clause is to permit
“free exercise” of religious belief by allowing citizens to seek out those forms of religious
worship most congenial to their conscience and to avoid those forms that are not congenial to
their conscience. By logical extension, that also means that if no form of religious worship is
congenial to ones conscience one is free to avoid them all or modify existing forms so that they
are congenial to ones conscience, as numerous sects have in fact done throughout American
Religion, the Military, and the American Vision
Pre World War II
One of the first questions to be confronted by the first generation of the leaders of the United
States was the question of official chaplains in the legislature and the military. James Madison
was vehemently opposed to this on the grounds that it would lend the imprimatur of government
approval of ecclesiastical statements as well as the appearance of divine authority for
government actions. If there is anyone to whom one should look to what was intended by the
establishment clause, at the top of the list should be the one who wrote it (Olree).
During the second Great Awakening, Christians throughout the country attempted to rewrite
history, creating the myth of a devout and pious General Washington, an image made famous in
a painting of Washington kneeling on the frozen, snow-covered ground at Valley Forge, blurring
the line between civil, military, and divine authority. This story was promulgated in the same
book as the “cherry tree” story and the entire book in which it was told has been thoroughly
discredited (Steiner). In fact, Washington was not particularly pious and was actually
reprimanded from the pulpit by an Episcopalian minister for his habit of leaving the service just
before the congregation was about to take communion while Mrs. Washington remained with the
other congregants. Washington graciously accepted the rebuke and from then on, and merely
declined to attend worship services on communion Sundays (ibid.). These are hardly the actions
of the pious, devoted Christian painted (literally) by later religious propagandists (ibid.). While,
as noted earlier, the Framers had a sufficiently well-developed sense of history that the religious
wars of Europe were very much on their mind, to the average citizen of the time, let alone today,
these conflicts were virtually unknown and they were heady with the thought of having an entire
continent to convert, subdue, or conquer in the name of the Christian God (Knoll).
In the build-up to the civil war, religion in the soon-to-be divided nation had a decidedly
schizophrenic character to it, with the abolitionists having the weakest arguments, theologically
speaking, as slavery was positively mandated in the Old Testament and not prohibited by the
New Testament. Both the Union and Confederate soldiers and firmly believed that God was on
their side and the conflict was in many senses, a holy war. Perhaps nothing illustrates this better
than the lyrics to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” first published in 1862 (stanza 5):
“In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free;
[originally …let us die to make men free]
While God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! While God is marching on.(Ref)”
Following the end of the Civil War, during the Reconstruction period, the religion of the
Union victors came into ascendancy and resulted in the passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth,
and the Fifteenth amendments to the United States Constitution. The religion of the post-Civil
War period was very reformist in character, and joining forces with more secular movements,
played a part in many social reform movements, among them the temperance movement and
labor law reforms.
Easily recognizable religious beliefs did not play much of a factor in the First and Second
World Wars. What did happen was that totalitarian regimes adopted the tactics of religions, i.e.
unquestionable dogmas and articles of faith by which it was possible to distinguish They vs. We.
Post World War II Religion and the U.S. Military
Religion in both the U.S. military and in civilian life came back into ascendancy in the post-
WWII years during the “red scare.” Communists were vilified as “godless commies,” and
“under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance as though, like garlic, sunlight, or a crucifix
to a vampire, making a “godless commie” say the magic words “under God” would make them
burst into flame or something equally preposterous (Broadway). This period also saw the shift of
sexual mores in 1960’s and combined with the threat of “godless communism” was a primary
motivating factor for the resurgence of biblical fundamentalism in the United States as responses
to perceived threats to a Christian world-view.
Christian Reconstructionism, Dominionism, and U.S. Military
Christian Reconstuctionism is largely the brain-child of Calvinist philosopher and theologian,
Rousas John Rushdoony. The central tenant of Reconstructionism is that civil law should be
replaced by biblical law, including the death penalty for blasphemy, idolatry, and children’s
disobedience of parents. Dominionism shares with Reconstructionism a belief in the literal
“Second Coming” of Jesus Christ and a common attitude towards theonomy (the rule of the Law
of God). Not all the tenants of Dominionism or Reconstructionism are shared by all Christians,
but there is considerable overlap with much of conservative, evangelical Christianity (Sugg).
Today’s all-volunteer military draws largely from socially and religiously conservative
Americans whose beliefs, whether they know it or not, have been influenced by Dominionist and
Reconstructionist thought. Central to their religious eschatology is that a large-scale nuclear
conflict, centered in the middle-East would be a good thing; a glorious fulfillment of Biblical
end-time prophesy and that they, as Christians, see it as their sacred duty not to act to hinder the
Second Coming and to “win souls for Christ” in the meantime. Given this world view, it is no
surprise that proselytization in the ranks of military is rampant.
Consider the case of Lt. General William “Jerry” Boykin. This special-warfare and covert
operations specialist and devout Evangelical Christian, was in 2002 appointed deputy
undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Just after his
appointment in the summer of 2002, he was roundly criticized for speaking before church
groups, in uniform (Arkin), claiming that photographs he had taken just after the 1993 episode
in Somalia, depicted in the motion picture Blackhawk Down, showed the true face of the enemy
in the dust and smoke in the air…Satan himself. Speaking to an Oregon congregation, he told
them “George Bush was not elected by a majority of the voters in the United States,” he said,
“He was appointed by God” (ibid). Overstating the danger of such views among the ranks of the
military is nearly impossible.
Christian Embassy is a group that directly targets military leaders in the Pentagon and their
civilian counterparts throughout Washington DC. This private, non-government organization
even has an office in the Pentagon (Norris). In 2005, a Christian Embassy film crew was
allowed to film inside the pentagon in areas that are normally off-limits to non-Department of
Defense (DoD) personnel (Koons). The DoD representative that facilitated the filming was
Chaplain (Colonel) Ralph Benson (Ibid). The purpose of the video was for fundraising and
following the exhibition of the video at various evangelical Christian functions, the video was
posted to their website. The video featured DoD civilians and two and three-star Army and Air
Force generals-in uniform (Ibid).
What raised eyebrows and led to an investigation by the DoD Inspector General or IG, was
the fact that the military officers were filmed in uniform, during the normal duty day, inside
areas of the Pentagon off-limits to personnel without the right clearances, giving a distinct
impression to a viewer unfamiliar with DoD policy that this Christian Embassy they spoke so
highly of had some kind of official status within the DoD (Ibid). In fact, that was apparently
what some officers stationed to the Pentagon had come to believe as well. In the IG’s report,
Maj. General John Catton is quoted as describing Christian Embassy as a “quasi-Federal entity”
The IG’s report, issued July, 20, 2007 found that the unformed officers had acted improperly
and that Chaplain Benson had misrepresented for whom the video was being filmed and the
purpose to which the footage would be put (Ibid). The generals all thought they were behaving
properly at the time (Ibid). That is part of the problem.
United States Air Force Academy
These sorts of problems are not limited to halls of the Pentagon. The period between 2000
and 2006 saw over 50 official complaints of religious intolerance or harassment at the Air Force
Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado filed with Air Force officials. A group from Yale
divinity school, asked by the academy to evaluate the religious atmosphere at the Academy
observed a chaplain, speaking in front of cadets during their basic training, tell the evangelical
Christian cadets present that their fellow cadets who did not come to know Christ in the “proper”
way (apparently the chaplains way) would burn forever in hell (Zubeck, 4/202005). This was
just one of the many stupefyingly inane antics of evangelicals at the Academy. Military faculty
proselytized cadets in official emails, sermonizing about the significance of the “National Day of
There seems to an unwritten assumption among evangelicals in the military, that whatever is
done “for Christ,” even if it breaks long-standing rules of conduct for military members is
justified. Intimidation of subordinates, lying, either by omission or commission, threats of
violence, are all justified in the name of Christ.
The most unsettling incident occurred in Iraq to Specialist Jeremy Hall. In July, 2007 Hall
attempted to start a discussion group for atheists, free-thinkers, and other people that did not
practice traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs (Urgent Issues). Other groups that met on base
included all types, from religious groups to computer-gaming groups. He obtained the proper
permissions from his chaplain to post flyers advertizing the meetings. On July 31st, 2007 the
group met for the first time with Hall, other military members, and some non-military personnel
attached to Combat Operations Base Speicher, Iraq, in attendance. During the meeting, one of
Hall’s superiors, Major Freddy Welborn interrupted the meeting, threatened prosecution under
the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) for the uniformed attendees and once Welborn
learned that the meeting was Hall’s idea, also threatened to block his forthcoming re-enlistment
A lawsuit was filed in the Topeka, Kansas Federal District Court in September 2007 against
Major Welborn and Defense Secretary Robert Gates for, among other things, imposing an
impermissible religious test in direct violation of Art. VI, Sect. III of the United States
Constitution (Ibid). Following the lawsuit being filed, Specialist Hall, still in Iraq, told his
attorneys that he had been threatened with “fragging,” a euphemism used in the military for
killing a fellow soldier (Military Probes). It is quite likely that this case will end up in front of
the Supreme Court; as well it should.
Potential Issues and Arguments Before the Court
This section will deal with some of the potential arguments the defense may present and
possible counter-arguments for them.
Argument 1: The members of the military are not covered by the phrase “…any office
or public trust under the United States."
Counter Argument: On the face of it this argument is fallacious. United States military
officers are commissioned by the President with the consent of the Senate,
given this fact, the burden would be with the defendant to establish that a
commission granted by the President, with the consent of the Senate, and
requiring an oath of office, is not an expression of a “public trust.”
Argument 2: The enlisted ranks are not subject to Art. VI, Sect. III and it is not
unconstitutional for officers, themselves not subject to a religious test
as a condition of service, to administer “religious tests” to those under
their command in the name of good order and discipline.
Counter Argument: Enlisted members, in addition to being subject to the UCMJ, are subject
to many of the same rules and regulations that Federal civilian employees
are obliged to obey and as such they are entitled to the same protections
from “religious tests” as any other person on the federal payroll, military
Argument 3: Religious practices have been justifiably curtailed in the past due to the
legitimate needs of the military mission in order to foster good
order and discipline (Goldman v. Weinberger, 475 U.S. 503 (1986)). The
presence of a minority of religious non-believers in a military unit can
destroy unit cohesion and morale.
Counter Argument: This sort of argument was made against the racial integration of the U.S.
military under President Truman. Service members’ religious opinions
are, for the most part, not discernable unless they are interrogated on them,
unlike their race or ethnicity. If service member can be told, with respect
to the skin color or accent of the man or woman next to them, to “just get
over it,” it is even more reasonable to order them to not ask questions,
irrelevant to the mission of the military, of their fellow service members if
they are going to take exception to the answers they get.
Merely asking the question, “Are you religious?” is a religious test. This trend of
“Christianization” of the military represents a grave threat to the Constitution, especially in an
era when the United States is engaged in conflicts with groups whose religious dogmas designate
the United States as their enemy. If this country is to maintain the moral high ground (making a
distinction between morality and piety), then it must be seen as being scrupulously above petty
Many religious believers perceive a threat to society by outside forces bringing about a
“moral decay” in the United States. However, in the decline and fall of Rome, the real decay
began when she sacrificed her ancient principles of pluralistic, secular, republican government
and tried to build an empire. Had Rome not went down that path, the barbarians would have had
a much more difficult time even approaching the gate, let alone breaking through. Let us hope
that we do not suffer from the same form of hubris.
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