Bookmark this one. This letter accidentally became the best walk-through on how to fight back against those mandatory ceremony prayers.
For 17 years, every military graduation ceremony I’ve been to has had an invocation and/or benediction. This includes schools like: Basic, AIT, PLDC, BNCOC… and BNCOC at Ft. Eustis specifically named Jesus. I’m an instructor and have attended ceremonies for WLC and an MOS reclassification course that have included prayer…until recently.
I’d locked horns with my boss over the issue of prayer in the workplace. The first time was over staff meetings that ended in a prayer. I had endured the first meeting that concluded with a prayer and walked out of the second. I then confronted the issue and explained that there was no opportunity for an “opt-out” and that I was not the only one uncomfortable with this seemingly mandatory group religious exercise. Prayer was still said, but it was done separate from the meeting by those who elected to attend in another location. Eventually, it stopped altogether…since formal staff meetings pretty much stopped as well.
However, prayer at graduation ceremonies continued. Our course’s graduation was informal until we moved into a new building. As the first class to graduate in this new building, the course manager decided it was appropriate to have a formal ceremony to mark the occasion. I was tasked with creating the outline. I found an old outline and deleted the invocation and benediction. When I briefed him on the outline and script, I confronted the issue directly. The ceremony went like clockwork with nary a prayer, and it was good. The second ceremony, however, not so good. Prayer was lead by the course manager not as a formal part of the ceremony, but as part of his closing remarks. I walked out as soon as I heard “dear heavenly father”.
This prompted me to not only confront the issue verbally, but in a letter as well. In it, I tried to address the possible counter-arguments:
“Generic” wording – despite consistent references to a monotheistic, patriarchal deity [JG note: Agreed, there is no such thing as ‘non-sectarian prayer’ or ‘universal prayer’]
1st Amendment religious expression – despite presence of “captive” audience with no opt-out)
Benefits of prayer by individuals and groups – despite those groups meeting voluntarily for that purpose, unlike a graduation ceremony
‘No prayer’ and ‘preference towards non-religious’ – preference to non-religious would actually be a speaker would spoke against prayer and belief…absence of prayer is neutrality
Is the prayer open to all faiths? Would an imam or rabbi or other “holy” person be given an equal audience?
Tradition – we’ve always done it this way – those in the majority are comfortable with this, though in reversed roles…not so comfortable.
The student will only have to endure it once – but why endure it at all, and they have probably been through this before in basic, AIT, etc.
I could just excuse myself from the situation – but that doesn’t solve the underlying problem at all.
The next ceremony? No prayer.
I wonder, however, if this will last only as long as I am around to keep objecting or if the powers that be actually accept the arguments regarding prayer and religious expression in official ceremonies. It’s a small step in just one unit, but it’s a step forward. If this is to ever change across the board, it will take many such small steps, I think.
-SSG Tim Rohal II
10/10. Somebody buy this man a beer, immediately.
*My reply below the fold*
He’s probably right that as soon as he’s gone, prayer will pick up again. Don’t fret though, he now has a strategy for his next location. Staff Sergeant Rohal also just gave us all a Standard Operating Procedure.
About ‘It’s a tradition’ – I’ve heard from more than a few people that this ceremonial prayer nonsense was unheard of until the late 1980’s. Far from ‘how we always did it’, that time period coincides directly with the evangelical push to influence government by occupying vast swaths of it.
It’s time to follow Staff Sergeant Tim Rohal’s lead and make a new tradition. Fight back against this unconstitutional mess right from the front. Don’t stop at IG, EO, JAG, or your supervisor – take it into your own hands. You may not have this opportunity until you reach certain ranks. If you see this type of opportunity, take it. If shit hits the fan, there are organizations out there that can and will help you immediately – American Atheists, FFRF, MRFF, AU, ACLU, MAAF etc. [Please do feel free to contact me directly and I’ll get you squared away.]
I know I’ve been in a similar situation when I had to start giving suicide prevention training. I was ordered to go get the chaplain to teach us not to kill ourselves – part of that Spiritual Fitness nonsense. Instead of that, I simply taught the class myself – got a standing ovation (seriously) and a heartfelt congratulatory message from the religious supervisor who originally sent me off to fetch the chaplain.
You’d be surprised how many of these people runaway, or otherwise change their minds when you raise a little hell. Keep it respectful and maintain military bearing and you can’t go wrong. You’re right, and they’re wrong. You’ve got allies. Use them.