A Matter of Color
Keeping the Peace Behind Bars on September 11
In much the same way that intellectuals, domestic policymakers and the courts are wrestling with the role of religion in public life, the foreign policy establishment must begin to engage the issue as well. The response to 9/11 forged stronger links between the national security and domestic law enforcement establishments through (1) the creation of federal and state homeland security departments; (2) the formation of attendant enforcement agencies charged with fulfilling the mandates of those departments; and (3) the development of a communications apparatus to ensure that law enforcement personnel at all levels—federal, state and local—have access to necessary information on matters of domestic security.
As an example of how this plays out, State Department concerns about identifying the purveyors of extremist Muslim ideology on foreign soil are mirrored on the domestic front by federal and state corrections officials worried about Islamic radicalization in American prisons, and by law enforcement personnel concerned with gun trafficking among street gangs—thus the need to develop a coordinated approach to policymaking that values the contributions of religious leaders on both the foreign and domestic fronts would seem wise.
Yet, as Johnston points out, there is considerable reluctance on the part of national security officials to engage the services of religious clerics. He argues—correctly, I believe—that the notion of "separation of church and state" makes government officials loath to engage in healthy, informative dialogue with faith leaders in other countries: "...[T]hose who work in the executive branch of the U.S. government (especially in the national security arena) feel constrained by separation of church and state considerations from engaging with the clerical elements of other societies. As a result, whether by cautious interpretation of "policy," or by personal inclination, they do not feel comfortable allying with the important religious leadership elements that could help combat a whole range of problems, including extremist ideology."
In other words, their fear of the unknown keeps them from obtaining valuable information—to the possible detriment of our nation. Ten years after 9/11, is this really the path we want to follow?
Rev. Samuel K. Atchison has served as a welfare policy analyst, social services administrator, social policy consultant, and prison chaplain. He is the president of the Trenton Ecumenical Area Ministry (TEAM), which serves as a coordinating agency for the community outreach efforts of churches in Mercer County, New Jersey. He is also a community partnership manager with the Amachi Mentoring Coalition Project (AMCP), a program of the Philadelphia Leadership Foundation that provides mentoring to children impacted by incarceration.