Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., is showing how one religious zealot in a government position can cause untold havoc.
For more than six months, the senior senator from the Yellowhammer State has held up hundreds of military nominations to protest Pentagon policy ensuring that service members have access to abortions and other reproductive medical care.
Laudably, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is refusing to be blackmailed by Tuberville’s stunt. Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh told the New York Times, “A service member in Alabama deserves to have the same access to health care as a service member in California, as a service member stationed in Korea.” The Times appropriately describes it “as a showdown between a white former football coach and the country’s first Black defense secretary, two Alabama men, both with deep roots in Auburn University.”
It was as Auburn’s overly prayerful football coach that Tuberville first came to the attention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. As FFRF’s “Pray to Play” 2015 exposé documented, Tuberville was personally responsible for establishing chaplaincies at Ole Miss, Auburn, Texas Tech and Cincinnati. When he became Auburn coach in 1999, one of his first moves was to bring in a team chaplain. Religious media exulted that players were getting baptized, carrying around bibles and wearing wooden cross necklaces.
Contradicting Tuberville’s assertions that being a Christian is synonymous with virtue is a person named Antrione Archer, whom Tuberville hired to be a salaried team chaplain at the University of Cincinnati. Archer, who instructed players on appropriate “sexual conduct” in his role as chaplain, was later jailed for sexually assaulting a 73-year-old grocery store employee. Tuberville had reportedly fundraised for Archer and personally vouched for his character.
After FFRF persuaded Jefferson County Schools in Alabama to end its unconstitutional practice of broadcasting prayer over the loudspeaker before football games, Tuberville as Alabama’s junior senator in 2022 chided the decision, tweeting from his official Senate Twitter account: “At Auburn, I hired a team chaplain because I knew the positive impact it would have on my players. We need more God in our lives, not less.”
Tuberville, say many critics, is sacrificing national security for political points in his current grandstanding. The approval of Charles Q. Brown Jr. to become the next chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has been blocked since May. Tuberville is holding up the appointment of Adm. Lisa Franchetti to become the first woman to lead the Navy. He’s stalling replacements of three-star generals to crucial posts where such experience is requisite. The lack of promotions threatens a serious brain drain. Even Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell recently called the hold a “mistake.” FFRF holds a much stronger view.
“Clearly, Tuberville shows the dangers of Christian nationalists run amok in our government,” says Dan Barker, FFRF co-president. “And his actions, harming not only reproductive rights but our country’s security, show so incontrovertibly why we need to get ‘God’ out of government.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 40,000-plus members across the country, including hundreds of members in Alabama. Its purpose is to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.