By Rob Boston
American United for Separation of Church and State, Sep 11, 2014
Bryan Fischer, the director of issues analysis for the American Family Association (AFA), is like a demented, right-wing geyser: You can count on him to pop off regularly.
Fischer’s latest eruption is quite a doozy. In a Sept. 10 column provocatively titled, “No atheist should be permitted to serve in the U.S. military,” Fischer argues that, well, no atheist should be permitted to serve in the U.S. military.
“There is no place in the United States military for those who do not believe in the Creator who is the source of every single one of our fundamental human and civil rights,” Fischer writes. “Serving in the military is a privilege, not a constitutional right. And it should be reserved for those who have America's values engraved on their hearts.”
He adds, “A man who doesn't believe in the Creator the Founders trusted certainly can live in America without being troubled for being a fool. But he most certainly should not wear the uniform.”
The AFA’s chief of cackle took up this rant after the American Humanist Association (AHA) publicized the case of an anonymous airman in Nevada who was denied the ability to reenlist because he refused to take an oath ending in “So help me God.”
As the Air Force Times reported, “The airman was told his only options were to sign the religious oath section of the contract without adjustment and recite an oath concluding with ‘so help me God,’ or leave the Air Force, the AHA said.”
The AHA argues that’s unconstitutional. Americans United agrees. We sent a letter to Pentagon officials Tuesday, advising them that they are violating this airman’s rights. The letter pointed out that the Air Force policy violates both the First Amendment and Article VI of the U.S. Constitution and concluded, “Please promptly bring the Air Force into compliance with the U.S. Constitution and allow the airman to take his oath without invoking God.”
We hope this matter will be cleared up soon. The issue of Fischer’s confusion, however, is unlikely to be cleared up quickly. Put simply, the man is an extremist who, for all of his talk of the Founders, neither understands nor appreciates this nation’s founding principles.
Fischer blathers on about how “real” Americans love God and thus should have no qualms about swearing a religious oath.
Bryan Fischer, meet Roger Williams. The founder of Rhode Island and17th-century religious liberty pioneer knew why mandatory religious oaths were dangerous.
“A magistrate ought not to tender an oath to an unregenerate man,” Williams observed. He asserted that doing so would cause the oath taker “to take the name of God in vain.”
Right on, Roger! There are practical matters at issue here, too. We’re battling ISIS in Syria and Iraq. In Russia, Vladimir Putin continues his saber rattling. The Middle East, as always, is a tinderbox. In light of this unsettled global picture we’d have to be crazy to turn away enthusiastic and talented non-believers who want to serve their nation. We need all the help we can get.
(And please, let’s not hear any of that foolishness about there being no atheists in foxholes. I’m not a veteran and haven’t spent time in any foxholes, but I know plenty of atheists, humanists, agnostics and so on who have served and who retained their lack of belief in a deity all through their enlistment – even when under fire.)
To reject such people – individuals who love their country and want to protect it through service in the Armed Forces – because they don’t have the proper “religiously correct” view isn’t just short-sighted, it is downright un-American.
Fischer concludes his ugly rant with this gem: “Military service should be reserved for genuine Americans – and genuine Americans, like the Founders, believe in God.”
As usual, he’s wrong. “Genuine Americans” respect the right of conscience and celebrate the freedom to believe, or not, as that conscience dictates. People who feel differently about this, like Fischer, are still Americans, but there is a more fitting term for them: bigots.