While you are praying

While you are praying June 6, 2012

The atheist has got your back. (click to embiggen)

I’m a big supporter of the Free Exercise Clause, and I would not be against my peers praying – except in two circumstances.

1) The forced prayer that is being depicted here.

A few times every month, I’m ordered to ‘stand at attention’ and then ‘bow my head’ for the chaplain’s invocation (read: prayer). The circumstances are entirely secular and overtly bland in nature. I’m talking about retirement ceremonies, change of command ceremonies, change of responsibility ceremonies, or even ‘potluck lunches’. All of these are mandatory, and there is no ‘opt-out’. You simply must comply.

I never bow my head. I figure that if anybody notices that I’ve not complied, they are also breaking the rule. I always look around for others who don’t bow their heads. They’re out there. However, that gives me very little solace, I don’t take comfort in knowing their are a handful of others equally freaked out by the situation (every time!) This is the exact same problem that the public school system dealt with nearly 50 years ago, and even the solution is the same.

In a pluralistic setting, all prayer needs to be opt-in and not being lead by the leadership (officers) of a government institution.

2) In a foxhole

I’d slap some sense into any soldier that put down their rifle and ignored their training for any reason during a firefight – including for prayer. I’d try to get through to them exactly twice.

The first time I’d say “Snap out of it, we’re going to make it – But only if you get your head in the game. I need you to concentrate…”

The second approach would be along these lines “Listen, I was an atheist until five seconds ago. I didn’t think you’d even believe me but… God just told me to tell you to shoot back at the enemies. He says He needs you for His plan, and that you must fight. He’s proud of you.” (without a hint of sarcasm.)

I don’t care what it takes. I’m going to see my daughter again. I’ll take an ass-chewing from my commanders any day, and I’ll take shit from the soldier later when I reveal that I was just manipulating him/her. Your religious freedom stops when my survival is threatened.

*Hat-tip to Sharon H. for posting this image on my Facebook wall.*

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  • iknklast

    “In a pluralistic setting, all prayer needs to be opt-in and not being lead by the leadership (officers) of a government institution.”

    Close. In an instutional pluralistic setting, there should be no prayer (except silent prayers that are individually offered up if someone wants to do so on their own). There is no such thing as opt-in or opt-out. Ask a former 10-year-old. When the big kahuna “suggests” you pray, you pray. Or look like you’re praying. Because those around you will act as enforcers, or will just know you’re different. In the military (or the 5th grade), being different can be dangerous.

    No opt-in. Just no prayer.

  • Steve

    Depends on where and how the prayer is offered. There would be no problem if chaplains just made themselves available to whoever actually wants to deal with them. They can post the dates when they hold services and people can go there if they wish.

    Or take prayer before missions. Instead of gathering everyone in place, someone can say “Hey, those who want to go a few steps over there and pray”. That way, it’s them who are set apart for the duration of the prayer. That’s an acceptable form of opt-in too.

  • Tuna Meowt

    I loved your last graf in that post. Ah, the perennial and unofficial motto of the enlisted man/woman.

    ‘I’d rather beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.’


  • Justin Griffith

    @#1 You’re absolutely correct if you read it that way. I totally agree with you. There shouldn’t be some ‘opt-in prayer loophole’ where a pluralistic environment is ‘politely offered the chance to pray’. Non-sectarian prayer does NOT exist, and you clearly get that.

    Perhaps it was sloppy wording, and I appreciate the straight-forward correction. In no way is religious prayer an acceptable part of a pluralistic environment from government officials.

    Obviously I was not careful with my wording, but hopefully you can see now that I already meant what you expressed. I love my commenters!

  • Pogonip

    Matthew 6:6

    King James 2000 Bible (©2003)

    But you, when you pray, enter into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret shall reward you openly.

  • Justin Griffith




  • mxh

    @#5… I’ve never used that line against a fundie. What’s their typical response?

  • Justin Griffith

    I have. We actually printed this on some cardstock for RBB 1.0 to hand to any apologists. 2/3 of them recoiled in utter shock that such an internal line of argument could be successfully made. 1/3 were clearly prepared for this, and countered it with some other line(s) in the Bible that contradicted this passage.

    Overall – successful strategy.

  • Paul

    I’m partly ashamed for being a christian apologetic for as long as I was and always participating in prayers held within my command during my service.

    Although the following is reference in previous posts, it’s worth repeating for the reasons the article’s author mentioned:

    Christian service members with sincerely held religious beliefs consider this: “[W]hen thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret[.]” Matthew 6:6 (Jesus addressing the attendees at the Sermon on the Mount) KJV.

  • Jon

    Having been in the military for 9 years, I HATE the praying at ceremonies. Being in the Army Band, I do a lot of them. I love it because I feel a sense of community and understanding when there are others who do not bow their heads. What happened to “separation of church and state”? For me,the refusal to bow has been an easy thing to get away with, whenever questioned, I say I am an atheist and it is against my beliefs. What I really hate though is the “so help me God” when re-enlisting. I don’t think there is a way around that.

  • Gonzo

    Justi, re #8….unless they can point me to a passage that actually has Jesus contradicting his directions in Matthew 6:6, (and they have never done so up to now), my response has been “so whose words are more important to you…Jesus’ or XXX’s?” If they ever manage to counter with a Jesus quote that contradicts…the response is easy…’So even Jesus doesn’t know when praying is appropriate?”

  • mxh

    Sweet. I’ll be trying this line next time someone is blatantly praying in public or gets mad about me not wanting people to pray in public.

  • Len Blakely

    For the win…

  • Sgt Frank

    Hmmm…I’ve never been “ordered” to pray at an official ceremony. I’ve been asked to please bow my head, but never ordered. And as a former First Sergeant, I would never have pulled anyone aside or gut-stomped them for not praying. How about the next time someone asks you to bow your head you just think about something important to you? I usually think about how nice it’ll be when this thing’s over 🙂

    Totally support your beliefs dude, just throwing my 2-cents worth.

  • Daron

    Jon (#10), the option for the reenlistment oath is to affirm v swear. It is not mandatory, and cannot be forced on you. The information you need is in AR 601-210, paragraph 6-18. This item makes the portion “So help me God” optional.

    The section is 6–18. Administration of oath of enlistment. The AR states “A commissioned officer of any Service will administer the Oath of Enlistment in DD Form 4 orally, in English, to each

    applicant. Make a suitable arrangement to ensure that the oath is administered in a dignified manner and in proper

    surroundings. Display the U.S. flag prominently near the officer giving the oath. The words “So help me God” may be

    omitted for persons who desire to affirm rather than to swear to the oath.”

  • For 14 years now, I’ve always raised my head when everyone else bows theirs.

    I’ve never worried much about it. No one has ever said anything to me. But it does make me feel like I’m giving them the ol’ “up yours”, and that’s always good.

  • Cole

    I like how you used a picture of a group of Marines and started talking about Soldiers. Please don’t get them confused. It makes them angry.

  • Marshall

    There is a silver lining in all of this. As referenced by the YouTube video “spot the atheists”, when asked to bow and as the prayer is given, look around and see if you can spot a fellow atheists. Great way to hook up with a fellow atheists.

  • Justin Griffith

    “Spot the Atheist” no longer amuses me, though I have played the game for years. Now my eyes dart around to catch a glance from another as freaked out as me. It’s totally improper, unethical, and illegal. It’s not cute anymore for me (admittedly, it once was.) Although I know even the chaplain himself has the best of intentions – I’ve come to find it vulgar.

    We fight for the US Constitution. That includes the separation of Church and State. I take comfort knowing that this will eventually stop, and that another Sergeant Dustin Chalker will emerge to challenge this with a rock-solid legal position. We learned a lot from Chalker’s first legal case (basically, what tactics to expect ‘lost paperwork’, a supervisor’s ‘conveniently forgetful memory’… etc.)

  • For anyone who is like my pillow, you’re huggable. In case you are like my cellular phone, you’re smart. If you’re my chocolate, you’re sweet. Should you be just like me, grabe and cute mo naman!

  • #20, above from “oakley sunglasses polarized” is SPAM.

  • Justin Griffith

    The spammers are learning how to defeat the blockers again. It’s an arms race, and I can’t wait until the next patch, tool etc. comes out.

    I’ll try to be a better goalie when I’m able, but I’d hate to have to turn on the auto-moderator options (it’s even more time consuming.)

  • Matrim

    If someone were praying instead of engaging, I’d do the same thing I’d do to anyone rake who had frozen up. First I’d yell at them. If that didn’t work I’d slap the ever loving shit out of them. If they wanted to bring assault charges against me they’d be welcome to do so after the fighting was over and we’re safely back on post.

  • Matrim

    …where did the word “rake” come from in that post?

  • MagicLady

    ..and God has the atheist’s back, whether or not they believe in Him.

    • Paul Loebe