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Should Religion Be Kept Under Wraps at Military Academies?

Competing trends in faith — evangelism and atheism — are creating a water and oil slick at US military academies. Nine midshipmen at the Naval Academy (not my favorite midshipman) recently petitioned the ACLU to have them require the school to abolish daily prayer at the attendance-mandatory lunches, a move based on a similar case at the Virginia Military Institute.

One recent West Point graduate said the common emphasis on religion leads some to feel like "God" is a prerequisite for "General some day." He says:

Nowhere does it say that you have to be a good Christian officer or Jewish officer or Muslim officer: You need to be an officer dedicated to the Constitution of the United States. They tell us as an officer you have to put everything aside, all your personal stuff. But religion is the one thing they encourage you to wear on your sleeve.

The head chaplain at West Point says:

No one is pushing them to believe. [Prayer] is something we have done in the military for centuries. It is not designed to make people religious. The majority of people here are people of faith, and a prayer asks God’s blessing on a gathering and on the food.

With commanding officers feeling free to express faith in speeches and lessons — of which one law professor says, “you always have to be aware of the authority you have within your rank and uniform and the coercive potential of that authority,” — and the emphasis on group cohesion and belonging, should religion feature in service education? Can cadets and midshipmen feel free to practice faith (or not) despite the practices of authority figures and peers?


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