Nonsectarian is no substitute for tolerance

I’m a little late to the party celebrating the latest success of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, but I thought I’d add my two cents anyway.

MRFF succeeded in getting some material removed from the Squadron Officers’ School curriculum – which the Air Force describes as the “first step” in professional military education that all officers undertake – because that material said that officers needed to go to chapel.

As the MRFF pointed out, this is unconstitutional on its face because it constitutes government advancement of religion and because it could create an unconstitutional religious test for office. The Air Force yanked the reading. Progress!

I’d like to point out one other thing here, though, that is becoming increasingly irritating to me. Part of the offensive language in the reading states:

“If you attend chapel regularly, both officers and Airmen are likely to follow this example,” according to the paper. “If you are morally lax in your personal life, a general moral indifference within the command can be expected.”

This says, in effect, that the only way to be a good person – and a good officer! – is to go to chapel. And while “chapel” could theoretically be seen as a “non-denominational” term, its connotation is blatantly Christian, especially in the Air Force. Sure, some “chapel” facilities also host Jewish services – those are okay, they’re almost like honorary Christians – and if you’re lucky, your command isn’t prejudiced against Muslims – but the message here is an unsubtle “Be an active, practicing Christian.”

Non-denominational is not an acceptable substitute for tolerant.

This is why as a member of a minority religion my goal is not to somehow get “approval” from the Real Religions so that I can be a junior member and have an acceptable alternative way to fulfill the “spiritual practice” expectation, so that then they can use me as an example of how “tolerant” and considerate they are, even when they’re not.

Do I want recognition? Sure – it’s an important means to protect my practice. But I don’t want to become part of pushing some kind of practice on everybody else. In situations like this, my goal is to get the spiritual practice expectation removed entirely. That will help me and my coreligionists, but also practitioners of other minority religions, agnostics, atheists, and, ultimately, everybody.

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About Literata

Literata is a Wiccan priestess and writer. She edited Crossing the River: An Anthology in Honor of Sacred Journeys, and her poetry, rituals, and nonfiction have appeared in works such as Mandragora, Unto Herself, and Anointed as well as multiple periodicals. Literata has presented rituals and workshops at Sacred Space conference, Fertile Ground Gathering, and other mid-Atlantic venues. Literata offers healing and divination services as well as customized life-cycle rituals. She is currently completing her doctoral dissertation in history with the support of her husband and four cats.
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