Less than a month ago, Americans United for Separation of Church and State called for an end to all prayers at official events held at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The group, which maintains public prayers violate the U.S. Constitution, expect a reply to their request by next week. The group alleged some cadets complained about the inclusion of prayers at several events, including Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Barry Lynn, the group’s executive director, stated, “West Point cadets should be able to train for service in our nation’s military without having religion forced upon them.” He added, “Academy officials must respect the religious liberty rights of all cadets who should be free to make their own decisions about prayer without government coercion.” An Academy spokesman noted all prayers at West Point are voluntary.
Lieutenant General William “Jerry” Boykin (U.S. Army, retired) argued against the Americans United assertion, declaring, “Barry Lynn’s objective is to destroy Christianity in America – it has nothing to do with wanting to support the First Amendment under his understanding of it.” The retired general also remarked, “Prayer at West Point is a tradition. Because it is a tradition that derives from Christianity, Barry and others want to destroy that tradition because they are anti-Christian and want to erase any remnant of the influence of Christianity on our society.” Ron Crews of Chaplain Alliance noted his dismay over the letter, “Any form of religion is under attack in the military – from Nativity scenes on military chapels to prayers at events. We need to respect our plurality instead of trying to quash those who do have faith.” Crews further stated, “There is absolutely nothing wrong with official prayers at official events.”
Americans United and Barry Lynn are mistaken. Religion is not being forced upon cadets at West Point. Rather, invocations are offered as a matter of free exercise. Cadets may decline to participate without any repercussion whatsoever. The freedom of not only cadets of faith, but also service members of faith, is at great risk in this matter. If Americans United succeeds in having invocations removed from official events at West Point, then it will also triumph in removing public invocations from all U.S. Army posts. This would have ramifications for all service branches, affecting not only the religious liberties of military members of faith, but also the responsibilities of military chaplains. Removing invocations from public events would strip chaplains of the major portion of their ceremonial duties, thereby negating their participation. If this happens, then people of faith who serve our nation will be silenced. Their faith, which is protected by the U.S. Constitution, will be forced to become a strictly “private” issue with absolutely no public expression. The very thing which Americans United and Lynn say they are arguing for is, in fact, what they are acting against.