I don’t envy military chaplains their jobs. Among other difficulties, they have to walk the church-state line, being faithful to their calling and God while having their actions examined under a microscope by people who think the republic is endangered by a handful of words.
Rep. Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota had offered an amendment to the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act that would have given chaplains the freedom to pray according to their conscience and their faith. You can argue the merits of the proposal and I have no particular opinion about it. Given that it pertains to settings where adults comprise the audience. it seems pretty innocuous. But you wouldn’t know that from Joseph Conn’s hysterics. Writing at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, he sees this as part of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy to turn the military into Crusaders or something:
[C]haplains are employees of the government, and they serve a diverse constituency, not just members of their own tradition. They are sometimes asked to offer invocations at military events where personnel from many faiths are present. At those, nonsectarian prayers may be requested.
Religious Right forces are up in arms about this attempt at inclusivity, insisting that fundamentalist chaplains should have the right to slip a little not-so-subtle proselytizing into their invocations and benedictions. It’s one part of a deeply disturbing crusade to target service personnel for fundamentalist proselytizing and cast a conservative Christian mantle over our armed forces. [Emphasis added.]
Now, this is what the amendment says:
If called upon to lead a prayer outside of a religious service, a chaplain shall have the prerogative to close the prayer according to the dictates of the chaplain’s own conscience.
Got that? It means that Christian chaplains can conclude prayers with “in Jesus’ name.” (Presumably, Muslims could end a prayer with “in the name of Allah, the merciful, the compassionate,” etc.) That’s what qualifies to AU as “not-so-subtle proselytizing.” Because just hearing the name of Jesus in a public place is liable to turn men and women with heavy weaponry into right-wing culture warriors, and we all know where that leads…