Sunday, November 27, 2011

The 3 - November 27, 2011

This week on "The 3", a couple of stories involve religious expression, including developments regarding freedom of religion in the context of the U.S. military. Also, Presidential politics are found in this week-in-review feature, as some candidates enunciated their positions on certain family-oriented issues. And, with Thanksgiving being celebrated around the nation, we reflect on how American Christians can use this holiday as a opportunity of expressing their faith, as leaders have done in years past.

3 - Cross removed from Army chapel in Afghanistan, Marines face cross removal at Camp Pendleton

The use of religious symbols on U.S. military bases has come under scrutiny within the past few weeks. In the aftermath of a controversy at Camp Pendleton, a Marine base near San Diego, a cross that has provided inspiration for soldiers at an NATO base in Afghanistan has been removed.

First, the Camp Pendleton situation. According to The Christian Examiner, an atheist group called the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF) has asked that a cross erected by Marines at Camp Pendleton to honor fallen troops be removed, citing it constitutes an establishment of religion.

The American Center for Law and Justice has become involved, sending a letter to the Camp's commanding officer, saying: "The Constitution does not prohibit honoring fallen troops through the use of a historic symbol merely because that symbol also carries religious significance. In fact, the Constitution forbids excluding religion from every aspect of public life, precisely the goal of the MAAF and other atheist groups.” The Marine Corps is reviewing the issue.

Meanwhile, half a world away, a cross was placed in front of a chapel at Camp Marmal, a German base housing NATO troops in Afghanistan. The interfaith chapel is under the supervision of the U.S. Army. The cross was an inspiration for troops, but the Army says it violates its regulations, which state: “The chapel environment will be religiously neutral when the facility is not being used for scheduled worship. Portable religious symbols, icons, or statues may be used within a chapel during times of religious worship.”

Here is the story from The Christian Post.

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council charged that the decision secularized a religious building. He said, "There’s a sole purpose of a chapel and it’s to worship."

Some service members quoted in a Politico story felt the removal of the cross was an attack on Christianity:

The two characterized the removal of the cross as an attack on their religion and noted that there had been no complaints from Muslims — there are two mosques on the base — or Jews, who had recently conducted a service in the chapel without incident.

“I really don’t understand why Christians are always attacked. If it was a crescent moon on top of a mosque, it would never be taken down,” said an Army serviceman.

“We would just like to know where the line is. The chaplains wear different religious symbols on their uniforms depending on which religion they are. Is that the next thing to be targeted?” added a second service member.

Without having a knowledge of military precedent, one has to wonder what is at play here. Certainly, as Perkins contends, if the purpose of a chapel is to worship, and Christianity is the religion that is practiced at the chapel, should there be any restrictions on the symbols? Now, if the military has a "no symbol" policy, then those in charge were following the proper regulations - but does enforcement of those regulations constitute the denial of the free exercise of religion?

When the Navy attempted to place inappropriate restrictions on prayer a few years ago, Congress stepped in an overturned the rule. One particular Navy chaplain, who had been court-martialed under the rule and removed from his duties, claims that, since the rule was rescinded, then any action taken against him should also be removed from his record. There are forces at work that would like to place undue restrictions on service men and women who wish to freely live out their faith. The area of religious liberties will probably continue to be a significant source of tension in the U.S. military in days to come, exacerbated by the removal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

2 - Presidential candidates sign pledges

Last week, I cited the Thanksgiving Family Forum as the top news story of the week. In the aftermath of that event, which featured 6 out of the 8 GOP candidates sharing their heart motivation on a variety of issues, 2 of the Presidential candidates, just this week, took steps to try to bolster their standing with regard to family issues.

CitizenLink reports that Texas Gov. Rick Perry became the latest candidate to sign a marriage pledge offered by the sponsoring organization for the Forum, The FAMiLY LEADER of Iowa, promising to stand up for the federal Defense of Marriage Act, remain faithful to his wife, appoint “faithful constitutionalists” to the bench, and reform elements in divorce, tax and welfare laws that currently don’t support marriage.

Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum have also signed the pledge, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has said he would like to sign it, but only if he can make a few modifications first.

The FAMiLY LEADER has narrowed its field of candidates that it would consider endorsing to 4: Bachmann, Gingrich, Perry, and Santorum. Cain and Ron Paul were eliminated after the Forum last week.

Speaking of Cain, after been scrutinized for not signing a pro-life pledge from the Susan B. Anthony list, he actually signed it on Tuesday. The pledge includes promises to appoint strict constructionists as judges, selecting only pro-life people for key Cabinet positions, supporting legislation to permanently end taxpayer funding of abortion through Planned Parenthood and other agencies, and signing a Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act should such a bill reach his desk as president.

Cain had made comments in June, when he declined to sign the pledge, saying that he would sign any pro-life legislation passed by Congress, but that he could not, as president, “advance” it himself. Bachmann, Gingrich, Perry, Santorum and Texas Rep. Ron Paul have also signed the pro-life pledge; the only candidates still in the race who have not are former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.

The Forum gave voters, many for the first time, the opportunity to hear from candidates regarding how their personal beliefs, including religious faith, played into their policy decisions. These are important elements as Christian voters attempt to prayerfully consider for whom they will cast a vote in the 2012 elections.

1 - Christians celebrate God's blessings on Thanksgiving Day

The Thanksgiving holiday gives Christians the distinct opportunity, in a collective sense, to give thanks to God for His blessings on us and His favor on our nation. When Presidents Washington and Lincoln issued Thanksgiving proclamations, they specifically encouraged Americans to express said thanksgiving TO GOD.

Heritage Foundation President Ed Feulner, in a recent Washington Times piece, recounted that
Washington, when he issued a 1789n proclamation, called on all Americans that day to observe a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer” devoted to “the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.” Lincoln, on the same day, October 3rd, some 74 years later, issued a proclamation, in the middle of the Civil War, calling on Americans to reflect on their blessings AND give thanks to Almighty God. Feulner writes:
Yet President Lincoln paused at this time of unimaginable crisis not only to urge Americans to give thanks, but to note how blessed our nation is. “The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies,” the first sentence reads. He lists those blessings in terms so strong and soaring one could almost forget this was one of our nation’s darkest hours.

He goes on to say that:

The second aspect of Lincoln's proclamation that is sometimes forgotten is the reason given for the holiday. To give thanks, yes, but not just in general - to give thanks to God. “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things,” Lincoln wrote. “They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”

So, we have a unique opportunity as Christians to inject gratitude to God into our national consciousness. Even as the priorities seemed to skew more toward staying up really late on Thursday to partake in Black Friday shopping experiences, we must be careful to remember Whom we worship and to give honor to Him. Some honored God by observing the Thanksgiving holiday by sharing in helping the poor and needy, and to provide encouragement to those who need to experience God's joy and peace.

And, Fox News analyst Todd Starnes took our current President to task, pointing out there was no mention of God in his Thanksgiving address. Starnes wrote:
The president said his family was “reflecting on how truly lucky we truly are.”

For many Americans, though, Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on how blessed and thankful they are.

The president said the “most American of blessings” is the “chance to determine our own destiny.”

He called the very first Thanksgiving a “celebration of community."

Mr. Obama did make the proper mention of the contributions of our military men and women, and emphasized the shared experience of living together as Americans. But I believe that the nature of the word, "thanksgiving", implies that there is someone to whom we give thanks, and in a nation founded on Judeo-Christian values and principles, I think it's important that we not shy away from the role of faith in the foundation and sustenance of our great nation.

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