Reject Michele Bachmann's Sectarian Prayer Amendment, Says Secular Coalition for America

Last night the Secular Coalition for America and its allies discovered that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) had introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization bill that would allow chaplains in the military to use specifically-Christian prayers at official military events. The Secular Coalition for America unequivocally opposes this measure, and released the following statement:

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The Secular Coalition for America strongly believes that prayers of any kind at official military events are harmful to minority rights, but if chaplains do pray for official events, their prayers should be as inclusive as possible-in keeping with the Constitution and U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Rep. Bachmann's amendment would force the military to change their regulations and allow chaplains to invoke the religious figures of their choice at official military events, including but not limited to graduations and promotion ceremonies.

"The primary function of the military chaplain is to engage in activities designed to meet the religious needs of a pluralistic military community," wrote the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in 1985, in Katcoff v Marsh. Army chaplains were hired to serve military personnel "who wish to use them," the Court observed; they are not authorized "to proselytize soldiers or their families."

Given chaplains' mandate to serve a religiously pluralistic population, it is unacceptable for them to advance any one religious viewpoint over any other, including monotheism over other types of theism or nontheism. To change the current policy and permit references to Jesus, for example, is an insult to minority religions and nontheists of all stripes who serve our nation in the United States Armed Forces.

This kind of legislative effort marks a disturbing trend. Last week a Virginia State Police chaplain invoked Jesus Christ in prayers during the police department's annual memorial service honoring fallen state troopers. Previously, police chaplains were not permitted to invoke religious figures of their choice at government-sanctioned events, but in April Virginia governor Bob McDonnell revoked the ban on sectarian prayers and the invocation of specific religious figures.

Father of the Constitution James Madison described government chaplains promoting a majority religion as "majority tyranny."  It would be wrong if enacted by our federal government just as it is wrong in Virginia-Madison's home state.

If Rep. Bachmann's amendment moves to the floor of the House, we urge all Members of Congress to vote against changing current military policy to allow for sectarian prayers.

For Immediate Release: May 26, 2010

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