Military Tebowing: Tacky or Unconstitutional?

US Troops Pushing Christianity on Muslim Children

By now, you’ve heard plenty about Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow and his public displays of faith. Maybe it’s not a big deal to you and you turn up your intellectual nose at professional sports, but this guy, for all intents and purposes, is preaching to tens of millions of Americans every week, whether they like it or not.

One result of his efforts is “Tebowing” which essentially means assuming a “bowing thinker” pose to emulate Tim Tebow’s pre/in-game prayers.  This meme has its own website, complete with “patriotic” sections and a Vs. mode.  Ingenious, really.

So what’s the problem? It turns out military personnel are taking pictures “Tebowing,” which is to say they are associating the US military with Christianity.   Free speech and free exercise should extend to certain personalized pictures in the workplace, but there should be a line, it’s arguably being crossed many times over. Check out these examples:

AP Photo/Barry Gutierrez

Given that these are clearly optional activities, and that Tebowing is the basest, most diluted kind of religious activity I can think of, I see no reason to object in most cases. Similarly, “atheists in foxholes” photos in uniform or similar pro-humanist / pro-atheist pics would be ok in similar circumstances.

However, the Tebowing with Afghan kids is clearly an evangelical activity that must be pulled from the site with reprimands for the troop involved.  The NFL game is misappropriation of government resources — and any Marine will tell you his body is a government resource.

While there should be wide latitude, there is a point at which personal expressions are too closely wrapped up in one’s military persona.

update 12/17:

  • Thanks for the comments so far.  I wanted to post some responses here as well as those in the comments.
  • Those declaring ‘Christian-bashing’ or ‘choose your battles’ should note that this post is a question not a policy statement.
  • Many commenters pointed out that Tebowing is often mocking.  None of the examples here are mocking, and tebowing.com is about revering the activity, not mocking it.  From the website:  “What is Tebowing?
    (verb) to get down on a knee and start praying.”
  • Many pointed out that the activity is voluntary, which is the case in most of the examples, but not all.
  • Some seem to have missed that the Afghan child is being taught to tebow/pray by the soldier (with the gun on patrol).  I should also point out that evangelizing is explicitly prohibited by regulations.  Similarly, the Marines at the game were part of the official program of events, clearly acting with command direction, not simply in the crowd.
About Jason Torpy

**Comments at Friendly Atheist do not necessarily reflect the official policy or positions of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers are any other organizations.** Jason Torpy serves as President of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers (MAAF), a nonprofit community for atheists and humanists in the military. MAAF also educates military leaders about the needs of nontheists and advocates where necessary. Jason is a former Army Captain and Iraq veteran with a Bachelor of Science degree from West Point and an MBA from The Ohio State University.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

    Tacky? No doubt.

    Unconstitutional? Might depend on the situation, but, not being a lawyer, I dunno.

  • guest

    I am not a fan of Tebow but I always see “Tebowing” as people making fun of him. Is that not the case?

    • Anonymous

      Seconded.  Tebowing is frequently satirical.  I see no reason to categorize it as evangelization.

    • Anonymous

      Me too – the Tebowing.com web site is mocking the idea of praying in public.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anthony-Okafor/1759887752 Anthony Okafor

      LOL I aw a couple members of the Detroit Lions doing it when they kicked the Broncos’ ass in Denver and IT WAS TOTAL MOCKERY

  • Ren

    As an Atheist Veteran I side with tacky. Unless the military personnel are being forced to participate, I think this is not crossing any constitutional boundary.

  • Sarah

    I find your overall assessment fair and accurate <3

  • Guest

    “Tebowing” is “pushing Christianity”, seriously? Your bias is showing.

  • OLH632

    “However, the Tebowing with Afghan kids is clearly an evangelical activity that must be pulled from the site with reprimands for the troop involved. ”

    You know this how? I mean, “Tebowing” isn’t exactly a religious activity. Yes, when Tim does it it has a specific meaning, but it’s not exactly the same when people are doing it in jest..etc. I don’t see it as more than taking part in a popular internet meme.  To take it to the level where you’re saying “clearly, they’re being told to praise jesus” or whatever, is taking things to a bizarrely self-serious level.

    “The NFL game is misappropriation of government resources ”
    Is the suggestion here that they’re being forced to attend the game? Or simply that they should not be allowed to take part in leisure activities because they should be constantly engaged in fully military related situations?

    I’m a pretty militant atheist, and an absurdly anti-Tebow individual. But good god is this post a waste of time.

    • Anonymous

      In the combat photo, the kid is tebowing, not just the troop.  And Tebowing is prayer.  It’s more of a stretch to suggest they were talking about football than that they were talking about Jesus.

      The Marines at the game where clearly there at the behest of their commanders to represent the Marines.  That is what anyone would take from that photo, and certainly what the crowd would reasonably conclude.  This is no leisure activity – it’s an in-uniform advertisement for the Marines, with prayer.  If it were just a few individuals in the crowd, that would be totally different.

      • jim

        Absurd…

  • William Garvey

    Tebowing is all about mocking Tim Tebow.  That’s why NFL players Tebow after sacking him.  The point is to show how ludicrous it is to suddenly drop and make a big public display of your faith.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/early-lead/post/tim-tebow-gets-an-up-close-look-at-tebowing-by-lions-players/2011/10/31/gIQAW3ZgZM_blog.html

  • http://wordsideasandthings.blogspot.com/ Garren

    “but this guy, for all intents and purposes, is preaching to tens of
    millions of Americans every week, whether they like it or not.”

    Are you suggesting Tebow is doing something unconstitutional?

    • yomama

      Nope.  He’s simply a cheap imitation of Dobie Gillis!  Not even original in his God Squad act!

  • Rover Serton

    Tebow away.  He is having a very intersting run but it will end.  Like Newt, he is at his zenith.  Enjoy the view from the top while you are on it.

  • J. Quinton

    Unless praying is something only Christians do, I don’t see how this is unconstitutional.

  • Revyloution

    It’s like a tackier form of planking.

    As for illegal, thats clear.  As long as no one is required to do so, and it’s not being led by a government representative, it’s perfectly legal.  And it should be.

    • http://twitter.com/Garmandude GaR

      “a tackier form of planking”

      Good call.  I’ll just continue to despise Tim Tebow and his stupid showy religiosity.

    • http://twitter.com/Garmandude GaR

      “a tackier form of planking”

      Good call.  I’ll just continue to despise Tim Tebow and his stupid showy religiosity.

  • Sulris Campbell

    i am so glad so many of the commenters did no agree with JasonT and said so in a respectful and intelligent way. 

    as long as no one is forcing anyone else to “tebow” it is perfectly fine.  they can display their faith all they want.  displaying your own faith and forcing people to adhere to it are completely different.

    i am proud to belong to a forum where this post has generated these comments.

  • Sulris Campbell

    i am so glad so many of the commenters did no agree with JasonT and said so in a respectful and intelligent way. 

    as long as no one is forcing anyone else to “tebow” it is perfectly fine.  they can display their faith all they want.  displaying your own faith and forcing people to adhere to it are completely different.

    i am proud to belong to a forum where this post has generated these comments.

  • NotAProphet

    So they shouldn’t mock a Christian being ostentatiously Christian in front of Afghans why? Because they are of a different religion? It might be a propaganda victory for the fundamentalists, but it’s not like there aren’t other examples of openly Christian practices performed by uniformed servicemen. I fail to see how it could be unconstitutional.

    I’m a foxhole atheist.

  • Rabid

    As a Brit, the only thing this habit puts me in mind of is Bruce Forsyth.

    Sorry, Tim… Mission Failed!

  • Rabid

    As a Brit, the only thing this habit puts me in mind of is Bruce Forsyth.

    Sorry, Tim… Mission Failed!

  • Burger

    Why is this even a thing? Makes me want to stop following you if there’s going to be trash like this. Isn’t there anything more important than this going on?

  • http://www.christianfighterpilot.com/blog JD

    If you’re going to copy text (verbatim, no less) from someone else’s website, its generally considerate to give credit:
    http://christianfighterpilot.com/blog/2011/11/30/us-marines-pray-in-formation-at-nfl-game/

  • Anutt

    as a veteran of operation iraqi freedom and a christian, many of the military are patriots, and are christian.    why do you despise the christians so much?  what is it you fear in them?  they will protect you from the militant muslims whom would behead you in the muslim lands under sharia law.  stop being a hater.

    • Anonymous

      Stop being a hater?  After the whole “protect you from militant muslims whom would behead you in the muslim lands under sharia law” schtick?  LOL, surly you jest?

    • Anonymous

      Stop being a hater?  After the whole “protect you from militant muslims whom would behead you in the muslim lands under sharia law” schtick?  LOL, surly you jest?

      • Anonymous

        Who is going to protect me from the militant Christians trying to make American law Christian?

  • Anonymous

    Tacky AND unconstitutional. Tebowing is all about bragging and grandstanding.

  • TheSkydivingSkeptic

    You’re pulling a Cowboy Bebop At His Computer moment here Hemant.
    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CowboyBebopAtHisComputer

    If anything they’re mocking someone’s beliefs while on duty.

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

      Goddammit, there goes my night…

  • Ndonnan

    Ive been following your site for quite a while now to try and understand  the athiest point of view.I did expect to see a veriety of articals on differant religions but so far,nothing but anti- christian,except of course the insensertive athiest being rude to muslims,if it was christian,fine,but muslims,how rude,which of course he was a real pig.Now this artical about a man posing at a game,must be banned ,how petty,what sooks. You would think you interlectual deep thinkers had never left your home town,do you realise how lucky you are to live in the country you do,nativity scenes,christmas trees,love thy neighbour,how ever do you cope.Get a life people,athism has nothing to offer,though athiest do

  • Ndonnan

    Ive been following your site for quite a while now to try and understand  the athiest point of view.I did expect to see a veriety of articals on differant religions but so far,nothing but anti- christian,except of course the insensertive athiest being rude to muslims,if it was christian,fine,but muslims,how rude,which of course he was a real pig.Now this artical about a man posing at a game,must be banned ,how petty,what sooks. You would think you interlectual deep thinkers had never left your home town,do you realise how lucky you are to live in the country you do,nativity scenes,christmas trees,love thy neighbour,how ever do you cope.Get a life people,athism has nothing to offer,though athiest do

    • Anonymous

      Wow, your post is so full of fail I don’t know where to even start!

    • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

      “I’ve* been following your site for quite a while now, to try and understand the atheist* point-of-view*.  Nothing* but anti-Christian, except, of course, the insensitive* atheist* being rude to Muslims.*  If* it was Christian*, fine, but Muslims?*  How* Rude!*  Which*, of course, he was a real pig.  Now this article* about a man posing at a game must be banned?*  How* petty!  What cowards!*+  You would think (that)* you intellectual*, deep-thinkers* had never left your hometown!*  Do you realize* how lucky you are to live in the country (that) you do?*  Nativity* scenes, Christmas* trees, “love thy neighbour*”; how ever do you cope?*  Get a life people!*  Atheism* has nothing to offer, (though atheists* do.”)++

      The * indicates each word/phrase that was fixed in some way.  Spelling, capitalization, or blatant punctuation fail.
      The + indicates where local slang was used instead of correct English.
      The (…)++ indicates a blatant guess at WTF was trying to be said.

      • Waking Dreamz

        Superiority complex?  Not an attractive trait…

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_LNWAM4DYCN4MLBLHFGDHE2YKZM GloomCookie613

          Oh, I’m sorry, I completely forgot that I had left this instructional comment here.  I do hope the OP read it and has since at least learned how to spell atheist so she can find the website again!  Thanks for the reminder!

          Being a month late to the party with snarky comments?  Not an attractive trait…

  • Jon

    As another military Atheist, this post is ridiculous and kind of embarrassing, really. It makes Atheists look incredibly petty. “Clearly an evangelical activity” gimme a freakin break.

    • Anonymous

      I get the idea from the photos on the Tebowing site that about half are ridiculing Tebow, and the other half are in earnest.  I get the impression that many of the photos are taken as part of church proselytizing missions, such as the group of small children Tebowing in Haiti. 

  • http://profiles.google.com/schwabby Aaron Schwab

    Is it just me, or does Tebowing, at a glance, look like a really intense facepalm? Coincidence…?

  • http://profiles.google.com/mattand08 Matt Andrews

    Jason:

    I welcome the day where some military personnel Tebowing is a huge problem for atheists. That would probably mean all the important stuff like the horror stories at the Air Force Academy and such were finally licked.

    There’s plenty of battles to fight. This ain’t one of ‘em.

  • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

    You know the awesome scale on what to get worked up about and what not?  Reread it and take FA’s own (great) advice.  This is a Level 1 issue at the most.  Most people are doing it in a fashion that is making fun of Tebow and this ridiculous/superstitious ritual.  First it was planking, then owling, and now Tebowing until the next stupid thing comes along.  It’s not a “Christian thing”, it’s just a stupid fad that will be gone the sooner you stop giving idiotic behaviour ink.  From Hemant’s August 11th post: (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2011/08/11/how-should-atheists-react-in-different-situations-2/):

    “These are the
    kinds of issues that all of us notice because we happen to be atheists,
    but they’re just non-issues for everybody else. If we can’t win over
    those people with no vested interest in the matter, our fierce advocacy
    on these issues will backfire. By raising the issue at all, we’re
    moving hardly anyone over to our side but we’re alienating a lot of
    potential allies we might need for bigger issues.”

    Starve the trend of what it wants: Attention.

    • Anonymous

      This is a good point, and outside the military brand, I totally agree with Hemant’s post.  The only point of this post is when an obvious prayer activity is too closely tied up with the military brand or military operations.  That’s the distinction.  It’s unrealistic to expect that the long-standing and strongly-reinforced trend of Christianity in the military will simply go away if we ignore it.

  • satan augustine

    I was under the (mistaken?) impression that Tebowing – when not done by the Tebower himself – is an act of derision directed towards Tebow…which I heartily endorse, BTW. The man’s public piety is a pathetic presentation of pretentiousness that prompts me to puke.

    • yomama

      Couldn’t agree more!  I’m reminded of the pretentiousness of the Christian gossips in El Salvador who went to church Saturday night and gossiped about people the next day– spreading vicious gossip about people whose lives were in danger from that gossip.

  • Lori See

    While I agree with most here that tebowing is mocking the man, not praying, the marines doing it at the football game is inappropriate, no matter what their intention.  While wearing their uniforms they represent the country and must be mindful of the image they present.  Being disrespectful to a citizen or praying when one is in uniform, and apparently in formation, is just wrong.  

    As for the other photo, there isn’t much that can be inferred from a picture.  I can’t see anything more than a soldier having a friendly interaction with some kids.

  • yomama

    Christ!  It’s not even Tebowing, people!  It’s a cheap imitation of Dobie Gillis and the sculpture known as “The Thinker.”  Why this putz is credited with it is amazing!  Why?  Because he suddenly decided to bring the God Squad to the football field?  What’s next?  The cheerleaders on the sidelines posing as Christian gossips?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_XSCRPB5XPQJAFYN7CUQNYS5PDE .A

    Wow if you are that lame you have nothing better to do then complain about Troops actions and their choices you are no better then those who go after you for being an Atheist. go do something productive for once in your life an stop being a hypocrite!


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X