‘God bless the military’ sign can stay — for now

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KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii – A sign declaring “God Bless the Military” is staying put on a Hawaiian military base, despite protests from a group representing atheists in the military.

Col. Sean C. Killeen, commander of the Marine Corps Base Hawaii, located on Oahu near Kaneohe Bay, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser Friday (Oct. 9), “We will always support all service members’ rights to pursue and practice their own belief sets, whether religious or not.”

The sign became a sore point in September when base officials received a complaint from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an Albuquerque, N.M., group that supports religious freedom and the rights of atheists in the military.

Mikey Weinstein, the group’s founder and president, has called the sign a “brazen violation” of the Constitution’s protection against government-supported religion and said it “sends the clear message that your installation gives preference to those who hold religious beliefs over those who do not.”

“Retaining this sign is not a violation of the Constitution; censoring it would have been,” said Daniel Briggs, Alliance Defending Freedom legal counsel and Director of Military Affairs and a former JAG officer.

“Col. Killeen is accurate in his assertion that the sign fully comports with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Marine Corps is right not to succumb to the demands of activist groups that repeatedly misrepresent the U.S. Constitution,” said Briggs.

The large white sign with red, black and blue letters was erected after the 9/11 attacks and has been in place for 14 years. It reads “God Bless the Military, Their Families, And the Civilians Who Work With Them.”

If the sign is not removed or relocated to the base’s chapel, Weinstein has said his group will call for the erection of nine additional signs that proclaim other gods’ special feeling for the military, including “Vishnu blesses the Military” and “There is no god to bless … We have each other.” Other signs would recognize the Jedi Church, the Baha’i faith and the Church of Satan, Weinstein said.

If their demands are not met, Weinstein has threatened a lawsuit.

“We are in discussion with civil rights litigators in Honolulu,” Weinstein said in a phone interview. “It is just a matter of whether any of our military men want to come forward.”

Killeen told the Star-Advertiser no one on the base has told him they are offended by the sign. Weinstein said base personnel felt too intimidated to do so, but that 23 people on the base have complained to his group about the sign. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation claims it has assisted over 40,000 active-duty servicemen, veterans, and civilians who have served with the U.S. armed forces.

In an email to Killeen, Briggs wrote that Weinstein’s argument is based on the so-called ‘separation of church and state,’ which they interpret to mean that anything remotely religious must be purged from the military.

“MRFF exhibits this hostility as it seeks to marginalize religion and to push it to the far corners of the military community,” said Briggs.

— by Kimberly Winston | RNS

CNJ staff added to this report.

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