Saturday, February 11, 2006

On the Air Force and Spiritual Rape

Roger Williams fled the persecutions of Anglican Archbishop William Laud and landed in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1631. Shortly after his arrival he was banished from the colony for telling the authorities that they "cannot without a spiritual rape force the consciences of all to one worship."

Williams made his way to Rhode Island where he founded the first Baptist church in America and obtained the first charter in the history of the world that secured "a free, full and absolute liberty of conscience" for all the citizens of his colony.

John Locke read Williams writings and found inspiration to write A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689). Williams insisted that there should be "a hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world." Locke contended that
"Whencesoever their authority (the clergy's) be sprung, since it is ecclesiastical, it ought to be confined within the bounds of the church, nor can it in any manner be extended to civil affairs, because the church itself is a thing absolutely separate and distinct from the commonwealth. The boundaries on both sides are fixed and immoveable."
Locke's letter exerted considerable influence on the thought of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and others who founded a new nation on the American continent.

Traces of the language on liberty of conscience from Williams' charter for Rhode Island can be found in Jefferson's Act for Establishing Religious Liberty (1779) and Jefferson's insistence that the First Amendment erected a "wall of separation between church and state" (1802) is an echo of Williams'"hedge or wall of separation" metaphor. In 1819 Madison commented on the First Amendment saying that
"The number, the industry, and the morality of the Priesthood, & the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of Church from the State."
It should be fairly clear to anyone genuinely interested in discovering the intentions of those who founded our Constitutional Republic that they meant to prohibit anyone, lay or clergy, from using government authority to bully people into faith and worship.

I doubt that Thomas Jefferson or James Madison would have any trouble deciding whether Air Force Brig. General Johnny Weida and others at the Air Force Academy have violated the Constitution and abused the powers of their offices by attempting to exert undue influence over the consciences of cadets under their authority. Roger Williams would surely accuse them of attempted "spiritual rape."

In August 2005 it looked like the Air Force might put an end to the spiritual abuse at the Academy. Lt. Gen. Robert A. Brady issued four pages of guidelines that appeared to be a step back toward the principle of separation of church and state. At that time, Rob Boston wrote an official blog for Americans United that said,

Americans United says the guidelines are not perfect. A section on the uses of "non-sectarian" prayer is vague, and the document spells out no sanctions for those who violate it. Still, AU welcomed the guidelines as an important step toward increasing religious tolerance in the military.
On February 9, 2006 the Air Force issued a single page revised guideline that is clearly a step away from separation of church and state. Obviously, the Religious Right's lawyers for the defense of spiritual rape and conscience abuse have been at work. As the latest Americans United Press Release notes:
In the first set of guidelines, the Air Force stressed that, "Chaplains are commissioned to provide ministry to those of their own faiths, to facilitate ministry to those of other faiths, and to provide care for all service members, including those who claim no religious faith."

The revised guidelines dated Feb. 6 contain no such language. Instead they declare that the Air Force "will respect the rights of chaplains to adhere to the tenets of their religious faiths and they will not be required to participate in religious activities, including public prayer, inconsistent with their faiths."

Lynn noted, "It is shocking that there is no similar provision for regular Air Force personnel who do not wish to participate in prayer or other religious activities."
If the Air Force's new interpretation of the First Amendment prevails, by 2031 America may once again be governed by the same system of theocratic law that banished Roger Williams from Massachusetts Bay Colony.


Aisha said...

Interesting post. I came via Baraka's Blog Carnival.

Linkmeister said...

I'm reading Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale at the moment, and we're slouching toward Gilead.

I linked to your piece; it's very good.