The Freedom From Religion Foundation responded to the decision by the Air National Guard to continue its chaplain-led prayers at a base in New Hampshire.
After a concerned guardsman informed FFRF that ceremonies at the Pease Air National Guard Base regularly schedule chaplains to deliver Christian invocations at mandatory gatherings, FFRF urged the base to remove prayers from the ceremonies.
After FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover noted that such practices are unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the New Hampshire Air National Guard commander responded that religious promotion would continue.
FFRF reminds Pease Air National Guard that it has a constitutional and moral responsibility to take swift action to modify its practice, which ostracizes more than 23 percent of today's military members who express no religious preference, and the additional 8 percent who are non-Christian.
"While base chaplains have the right to freely exercise their religion, they do not have a constitutional right to a government-sponsored microphone or to impose their religion on guardsmen attending a mandatory event," wrote Grover to Commanding Officer Colonel James Ryan. "Halting chaplain-led prayer at base events should offend no one. Guardsmen and military chaplains will remain free to practice their religion on their own time, in their own way."
Absurdly, 17 members of Congress signed an ill-informed letter penned by Rep. Doug Collins and Sen. James Lankford in support for the Air National Guard's constitutional violation. The misguided letter defended the mandatory Christian prayers as "free exercise of religion."
In response, Grover wrote to Collins condemning the congressional advocacy for government endorsement of Christianity. The decision to continue mandatory prayers contradicts the original purpose of military chaplains, Grover wrote, which is to accommodate the free exercise of religion by creating opportunities for service members to voluntarily participate in religious exercises.
"The Air National Guard has so far failed to protect the rights of conscience of every guardsman," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Religious freedom requires that our government not take sides on religion—it must be neutral."
FFRF firmly advises the Air National Guard to end the practice of chaplain-led
prayer at official base events, and urges the group of lawmakers to rescind their support for the unconstitutional practice.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit organization that works to protect the constitutional principle of separation of church and state. It represents more than 26,000 nonreligious members across the country, including in New Hampshire. The organization is working on this issue both as a state/church watchdog group and on behalf of its more than 6,000 members who are in the military or are veterans.