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Happy New Year!


ImageHogmanay is the Scots word for the last day of the year and is synonymous with the celebration of the New Year in the Scottish manner.  The celebration normally lasts through the night until the morning of New Year’s Day (and sometimes on through 2 January).  There are many national and local customs associated with Hogmanay.  The most widespread custom is the the practice of “first-footing,”‘ which begins immediately after midnight.  It involves the first person crossing the threshold of a friend’s home and bringing a symbolic gift such as shortbread or whiskey.  The gift is intended to signify a blessing to the homeowner.  The homeowner provides food and drink to the guests.  The first-foot is intended to bring “luck” for the rest of the year. 

In the central areas of Scotland, including Glasgow, the local tradition involves holding Hogmanay parties filled with singing, dancing, the eating of steak pie or stew, drinking, and storytelling.  These parties usually last until daylight.  An ancient custom in the Highlands is to celebrate Hogmanay with the saining (Scots for “blessing” or “protecting”) of the household and livestock.  Early on New Year’s morning, homeowners drink and then sprinkle water from “a dead and living ford” around the house.  After sprinkling the water in each room and on the inhabitants, the house is sealed tightly and juniper branches are set on fire and carried throughout the house and byre.  The smoke is permitted to fumigate the home thoroughly until those inside begin to cough and sneeze.  Once everyone begins to react to the smoke, the windows and doors are opened in order to let in the air of the new year.  The lady of the house then administers “a restorative” from the whiskey bottle, and the household sits down to breakfast.  Among Scottish regiments, officers wait on the men at special dinners while the Old Year is piped out of the barrack gates.  The sentry then challenges the escort outside the gates, “Who goes there?!”  The escort replies, “The New Year!  All’s well!”  The custom of singing “Auld Lang Syne” is common in many nations.  “Auld Lang Syne” is a tradition poem reinterpreted by Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, and was later set to music.  It is now customary to sing this song as the clock strikes midnight while standing in a circle with linked arms that are crossed over one another.

No Nativity

ImageThe inaptly named Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) objected to Nativity scenes placed in two military dining facilities at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.  The displays were set up by civilian contractors who manage the facilities.  The civilian contractors, who hail from the Philippines and Jamaica, make up about one-third of the 6,000 residents at the outpost.  Of the 6,000, MRFF’s president, Mikey Weinstein, claims 18 of those in the military — 11 Christians and seven others, including Jews, Muslims, agnostics, and atheists — appealed to the group for the removal of the displays.  The base commander,  U.S. Navy Captain J. R. Nettleton, remarked, “No one’s ever complained to me about it. We’ve been doing it for 10 years.”  He stated that he wished the members had spoken with him directly regarding their concerns, and noted further that there is already a system in place for members to register complaints anonymously.  Weinstein agreed that military members normally lodge protests “up the chain of command,” but that these particular members wanted to retain their anonymity because they fear “terrible retribution on themselves, their careers and their families.”  He added, “There’s a witch hunt going on down there at Guantánamo right now to find out who the 18 are.”  Nettleton ordered the displays to be removed from the dining facilities and to be taken to the base chapel. 

The proper course of action for these military members would have been to lodge complaints with the proper offices in the chain of command.  The leadership would have then been able to investigate the matter with input from proper sources, such as the Chaplain Corps and Judge Advocate General, to determine the proper course of action.  Instead, Weinstein and his group have (again) been granted essential authority over the military chain of command.  There is a witch hunt being spearheaded by the MRFF across the military in order to stifle religious expression.  Military members need the lawful structure of the military, which includes the chain of command, to retain proper order and morale.  When the MRFF is permitted to evade this framework, then morale suffers and, more egregiously, proper military authority is undermined. 

Carol Rosenberg, “Guantanamo skipper orders Nativity scenes that stirred controversy moved to base chapel” in The Miami Herald
Associated Press, “Nativity scenes removed from Guantanamo dining halls after complaints” on FoxNews.com

Activists Call for End of Prayers at West Point

   Image  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. 

Americans United Press Release, “Official Prayers At West Point Violate Constitution, Says Americans United” (19 December 2012)

“West Point Prayers Under Attack” by Todd Starnes (Fox News)


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