God or Country?

God or Country? October 16, 2015

Sign currently displayed at Marine Base Hawaii. Photo by Michael Bongiorno.

I live on Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH), I am a United States war veteran, and I am one of the people who contacted the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) about the “God Bless Our Troops” sign situated here on base.

When I first arrived at the base this past summer I noticed how beautiful and serene it is here. I was also overjoyed to meet some of the finest, most caring, and most giving individuals one could ever hope to come in contact with. I signed my boy up for soccer and now coach his football team.

I also, however, noticed a problem when I arrived at MCBH: a giant sign erected on the base that seemed to me to be entirely unconstitutional. I passed this sign every day. It was unavoidable — the road to the athletic field and the health clinic goes right by it.

The sign states, in no uncertain terms, that this base, which is supposed to be entirely neutral regarding religion, does in fact hold one deity above all others. This was unacceptable to me and so, in August, I contacted the MRFF to investigate whether or not the sign violated the Constitution of the United States. Their reply, in very plain words, explained that it did.

When I joined the United States Navy I took an oath to uphold the Constitution. This majestic product of the Enlightenment, was, and still very much is, an important part of my life. When I was honorably discharged, I did not renounce my oath, which is what makes this situation all the more heart wrenching for me. To see one of the most important parts of the Constitution — the Establishment Clause — being tossed aside, by a Marine Colonel no less, is tremendously discouraging.

All of my brothers and sisters in the armed services must remember that it is their duty to put their personal theological and political beliefs aside when they join the service. These men and women are neutral parties when fulfilling their official duties and should never be caught breaking any of the fundamental rights that the Constitution has put forward. Unfortunately, we see the Commanding Officer of MCBH, Colonel Sean Killeen, doing just that.

The Colonel’s defense of the sign is disingenuous. In his response to the MRFF, he states that “‘God Bless’ is commonly used in our culture in a number of contexts and there are numerous references to God in this nation’s symbols, songs, mottos, and oaths.” He then claims that the sign has a “secular purpose” that “does not advance or inhibit religion.”

Either this defense is simply a wink and nod to all of Col. Killeen’s Christian Marines, or else he truly believes that the expressions “God Bless,” “In God We Trust,” “Under God,” and “So Help Me God,” have no religious meaning whatsoever.

In order for this defense to work, one must believe that such seemingly religious statements are really entirely secular in nature. The Colonel is declaring to all of his Christian, Jewish, and Muslim troops that these maxims have absolutely no ground in theological belief. He is arguing that since they have been used so often they are now entirely secular and that they are, for all intents and purposes, meaningless.

If I were a Christian, for example, this would enrage me to no end. I cannot comprehend why we do not see more adherents to monotheism standing up to the secularization of their religions.

On the other hand, and this is what is most frightening to me, the Colonel might not really believe that the saying “God Bless” has been secularized. He might actually be trying to promote a single religious belief above all others by camouflaging the words “God Bless” under the cloak of secularism.

This would mean that he and his supporters don’t really believe that the maxim “God Bless” holds absolutely no religious meaning, but that it is in fact verbiage that advances a single religious belief. If this is the case, then the Colonel has forfeited his right to protect the United States Constitution.

It appears that the Colonel has brought his own biases and beliefs into the arena of Constitutional debate and has, unfortunately, taken the side of his theological conviction as opposed to his Constitutional duty.

There is no room in the military for people who place God before the oath they took when they joined the armed services. As citizens of this republic it is our duty to resist anyone who would seek to undermine the Constitution in order to advance their own agenda, whatever that might be.

I will end this post with a simple, but very important question for the Colonel: what is more important, your duty to God or your duty to country?

If it is to God, then, I am afraid, you have lost sight of what this country is about and the freedoms you swore to defend.

If, on the other hand, it is to your country, then I will be the first one out there helping you move the sign to the Chapel grounds.


Michael BongiornoAbout Michael Bongiorno
Michael Bongiorno is a husband, father, and veteran, and is currently working on his MA in English. He is a staunch supporter of the separation of church and state and a firm believer in the freedom of speech. He writes on topics surrounding social injustice in the United States and around the world.

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