FFRF, co-signers object to coercive prayers on U.S. Navy ships

On behalf of military members who strongly object to official prayers on board U.S. Navy ships, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has drafted and sent a letter, co-signed by several other groups, to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus to stop the unconstitutional prayers.

The First Amendment violation is occurring aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln (the aircraft carrier President Bush gave his 2003 "Mission Accomplished" speech on), the USS Porter, the USNS Comfort and, most likely, other Navy ships, according to complainants. From FFRF's Sept. 9 letter:

"It is our information and understanding that Navy personnel broadcast a prayer every night over the intercom system aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. We understand that these prayers are initiated with the announcement 'Tattoo, tattoo, stand by for the evening prayer.' One of the four chaplains or a person designated by the chaplains then delivers a prayer. We understand that the prayers, whether delivered by the chaplains or designees, are nearly always in the Christian tradition. We received information that sometimes the religious officiant even recites passages from the bible, including verses from the New Testament.

"It is our further understanding that the prayer is broadcast on all areas of the ship, including service members’ private staterooms. We are also told that the ship's televisions (including those in staterooms) are remotely turned off during the prayer. We understand that some service members, when in the presence of others, feel compelled to remain silent in observance of the prayer. The television broadcasts are turned back on following the prayer."

Such prayers violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because military personnel are being coerced to participate in religious exercises, said FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker and co-signatories, which include the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers, Center for Inquiry, American Atheists Inc., American Humanist Association and retired Navy Cmdr. Jesse Kingg.

The letter continues: "Claims that the prayers are 'tradition' or that some are 'nondenominational' cannot disguise their inappropriate and coercive nature. Matters of personal conscience should not be the subject of official Navy announcements over the loudspeaker."

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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