Happy Veterans Day to all my teammates who wear the uniforms of the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard. I am going to address a touchy subject but critical and timely to those who serve.
As we celebrate Veterans Day, I thought it was important to talk about one of the key freedoms for which Veterans fight and have fought: Freedom of Religion. This year much has been made about faith and religion. Many believe that the United States is a Judeo-Christian society and as such we should collectively and publicly advocate these values and incorporate some of the rules and sources within our laws. I didn’t fight for that. In fact it’s what we are fighting against in Afghanistan, Iraq and around the world—separation of Church and State.
This year President Obama met with Pope Francis. The President recognized the Pope as the religious leader of the world’s Catholic congregation but received him as a Head of State for the country of The Vatican. Speaker Boehner cried at the reception of his faith’s leader. Many were confused by these actions but it was a clear picture of America. The Pope’s role is to provide spiritual guidance to his believers but he does not engage in government outside the walls of the Vatican.
We (The United states) are a divinely inspired Nation and God should be preeminent in our treatment of each other and the prosecution of laws. No single Bible or religious doctrine should prescribe our actions. Radical Islamists and Jihadist are trying to use their doctrine as dogma for government and this is what the men and women who serve are fighting against. Freedom of religion is freedom from enforcement of another’s beliefs and Freedom to worship our God within my private confines or public congregation. Simply put my freedom ends where someone else’s begins and the government’s role is to manage the resources of space of conflict at the level appropriate. It is why our Constitution mentions God without labeling him and God has entrusted the United States to do the right things.
Some have been confused about faith in uniform but they shouldn’t be. Faith is private between a person and their God. Faith as a service member is summarized in this note I penned in 2013 before a memorial address in Ann Arbor, Michigan:
Attached is a picture of my Dog tags.
They are similar to my comrades who served alongside me for almost 35 years and other service men and women generations before. I wore them proudly because they were a personal affirmation that I was serving with the possibility of having to provide my full measure in the defense of the ideals of this Nation as defined by our divinely inspired Constitution. But if you examine them closely you will notice my faith is inscribed along with my name, blood type and social security number—they summarize who I am. As personal as that declaration is, it represents a choice that I decided to publicly declare in the event of my capture or death. I could have written anything I wanted including Atheist, Agnostic, Muslim, Wiccan or Buddhist or any of other choice. Regardless of my choice, space was provided for my declaration in hopes that whatever my faith was, someone would know and treat me accordingly. But even in that public announcement, held privately against my chest, it is almost insignificant compared to what it really did, and does, for me. Being allowed to show my faith emboldens me.
It unites me with a team of teams from most ancient faiths around the world. My faith allowed me to ride through the streets of Baghdad and throughout the Country of Iraq with my counter-part, and later friend, Lieutenant General Ali al Obiedi, the Iraqi ground force commander. My declaration assured him of my relationship with my God and commitment to respect his approach to faith. My faith instilled sufficient confidence in LTG ALI and his staff to accept me to enter in the Shrine at Karbala as a believer. More importantly my faith allowed me to focus on my mission and put my life in God’s hands. Nowhere in the Constitution is Jesus Christ or any particular deity, or faith, described but God is listed multiple times. Our Nation’s first leader and Commander-in-Chief knew this and with great cognition and forethought even addressed it when he was questioned about the presence a growing Jewish population in Rhode Island. Abraham Lincoln even stated, “I often found myself on my knees when I had no place else to go.” The ancient religions are the foundation of thought for our Constitution.
As a leader the profession of faith should not only be tolerated but encouraged. I absolutely understand the slippery slope of isolationism and the patronization that some may fear but having witnessed hundreds former agnostics and atheists seek and receive multiple forms of baptism on the eve of battle in 2003, I am convinced each Soldier fought harder and clutched their dog tags with renewed passion as the thoughts of “what’s next” came closer into their consciousness. It is this intangible the must be protected. I am a Southern, Black Catholic; I have been a minority in so many settings I can’t count but my faith in non-negotiable. It is who I am my external expressions of faith are never intrusive but undeniable. I honored the rules of public declarations of personal faith my entire career but I never took God out of my speech or denied contrary conversations, each position is assured by our most sublime definition of who we are as a Nation—Our Constitution. I ask that you look at the head stones, Stars of David and Dog Tags of the deceased soldiers in the American Graves around the world and remember what our service men and women fought and died for, it is captured in their signed oath and on their dog tags, If you have never worn them and want to know…these are my dog tags.
Happy Veterans and Thank a Soldier, Marine, Sailor Airman and Coast guardsmen for their Service and commitment to our freedoms…especially that freedom endowed by their Creator”!