The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

15 December 2005

The nerve of some people

Marc was going through some old boxes at his mom's house, and found a pocket-sized New Testament that appeared to be at least half a century old. He popped it open, and this was waiting on the first page, dated 25 January 1941:

To the Armed Forces:

As Commander-in-Chief I take pleasure in commending the reading of the Bible to all who serve in the Armed Forces of the United States. Throughout the centuries men of many faiths and diverse origins have found in the Sacred Book words of wisdom, counsel and inspiration. It is a fountain of strength and now, as always, an aid in attaining the highest aspirations of the human soul.

Very sincerely yours,
Franklin D. Roosevelt.

No one would dare offer any such thing today to our "men of many faiths and diverse origins."

Posted at 11:18 AM to Immaterial Witness

Well, that would be a shame, if it weren't completely and grievously wrong in every major respect:

Over the past fifty years, the ABS [American Bible Society] has continued to supply Scriptures to the armed forces during war and peace times. On April 14, 1955, the ABS presented to Admiral Arthur W. Radford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "the 40th millionth volume of Scriptures provided by the Society for the Armed Forces and for populations liberated by the Armed Forces." During the Viet Nam War, the ABS sent several million volumes (18.5 million between 1966-1972) to troops in Southeast Asia; and during Operation Desert Storm, at the request of the U.S. Armed Forces Chaplains Board, it provided the military with 300,000 compact but complete Bibles and 100,000 New Testaments, all with specially designed camouflage covers which mirrored the uniforms worn by troops in the Persian Gulf. In recognition of the Society's support, then U.S. Army General H. Norman Schwarfzkopf, head of the U.S. Central Command, personally thanked the Society. "I am gratefully aware of the special attention, labor and resources which went into the production of these Bibles. Please accept my sincere thanks on behalf of all those who have been beneficiaries of your generosity and good work."

More recently, in 2003, in conjunction with the Operation Iraqi Freedom conflict, the American Bible Society produced a special military Bible after conferring with top military chaplains and their representatives.

This special military Bible addresses the specific concerns of military personnel and their families. For example, biblical citations are noted for addressing concerns about being overseas when a child is born or when a parent dies. It also includes copies of the military code of conduct, as well as words of encouragement from military leadership.

“Never before have the top military chaplains from each of the armed service branches come together to create a Bible to serve U.S. military personnel worldwide. This is an historic event and the American Bible Society is grateful for the opportunity to provide a message of hope in these troubled times,” noted Dr. Eugene Habecker, ABS’s president.

I have my own issues with the American Bible Society, but they do distribute a lot of Bibles, including to the military, and nothing has ever interfered with that. Nor would the military attempt to interfere, any more than they'd interfere with distributing Korans, which the far-left would see as discrimination.

Separation of church and state doesn't mean troops can't have Bibles - it means troops can't be ordered to be someplace where they're forced to accept Bibles. It's just like how the Gideons can hand out Bibles near any school in America, but can't get invited into the classrooms to a captive audience of kids and preach to them (anymore).

Any letter in a donated Bible from the CinC today might need to make it clearer that his recommendation is personal and not an order or a strong military-related suggestion, but somehow I don't think it's much of a secret that the President - in fact, every President since at least Monroe - is a Christian.

ABS is putting together gift packages for troops with a Bible, a CD of Christmas carols, and (perhaps because their lives aren't quite rough enough) a DVD of "The First Noel" with Roger Moore. You can send one to the soldier of your choice, or to any soldier who needs one, by donating here.

Posted by: Matt at 12:17 PM on 15 December 2005

(BTW, I didn't go look this up just to confound Charles - as a past purchaser of ABS items, I get their solicitations in E-mail, and only this week got asked to "send Bibles to our troops!" It was fresh in the frontal lobe.)

Posted by: Matt at 12:22 PM on 15 December 2005

Actually, I was keying in just as much on that reference to "men," but your emendations are appreciated.

Posted by: CGHill at 12:24 PM on 15 December 2005

Men and women these days. Go give them bibles. :-)

Posted by: Matt at 1:45 PM on 15 December 2005

I have a couple of spares, and somewhere I think I might have a Book of Mormon. (When I was in the Army, I bunked with a young LDS missionary; I'm sure he dropped one on me at some point. Last I heard, he was going to work for the Internal Revenue Service, and I'm sure there's a story there somewhere.)

Posted by: CGHill at 1:57 PM on 15 December 2005

I was given a pocket New Testament and Psalms at Fort Sill, but I don't recall any foreword by President Clinton.

Posted by: Sean Gleeson at 2:25 PM on 15 December 2005

"Completely and grievously wrong in every major respect"

My reading of Charles' post was that no public figure today, particularly a President, would give a Bible inscribed in such a way to members of the armed services (or similar group). At least that is what I took from it. I certainly don't think he meant that the American Bible Society (or Mormons, or any number of similar institutions) no longer gives away Bibles.

Nor did I take from his post that the military would be the source of interference in giving away Bibles. Rather, the problem would be with the media, leftist blogs and groups such as MoveOn. (None of that is stated, but implied in context of previous dissertations along these lines in this space. Charles can correct me if I am wrong on any of this, he would know his intent better than I.)

To imply that such leftist groups and media wags would NOT offer a teriffic amount of grief to any public figure daring to cross that "divide between church and state" in a manner similar to Roosevelt, would be "completely and grievously wrong in every major respect".

Posted by: Mr. Snitch! at 3:39 PM on 15 December 2005

I sent the story link to a friend in the Air Force, working at the Air Force Academy. The response she sent follows:

Wow, that's interesting. The sad thing is I can't even forward this on without possibly getting into trouble....

Posted by: Mel at 9:37 PM on 15 December 2005

Well, now, let's be honest here: the Air Force Academy has been in a spot of trouble lately for favoring Christianity over other religions, including reports of instructors ordering cadets to pray before classes, senior cadets harassing junior non-Christian cadets, and Christian cadets getting passes to leave campus for Christian meetings when non-Christians were denied the same benefits. That crap has to stop, but stopping it is not the "persecution" some claim it is. It's giving Christian and non-Christian cadets equal treatment.

And I think progressive organizations would indeed complain if taxpayer dollars were used to distribute Bibles, at least if the program didn't give the troops equal access to the texts of whatever religions they wanted. But as far as private donations? I think it's perfectly in character for GWB to have Karen Hughes write a Bible dedication in his name and let private sources distribute it to anyone who wants it, military or not, anywhere in the world. GWB's faith is no secret and no problem - it's only when he wants to use taxpayer dollars to advance his faith alone that it's trouble.

Some of you have been hearing too much "war on Christmas" stuff and letting it get to you. See, for example, this story from last year, where the ACLU of Michigan settled with a school district that had illegally stopped a student from using a BIble quote in her yearbook profile. The settlement included inserting the original quote in all copies of the yearbook on file with the school, plus sensitivity training not to censor student speech that might offend others solely because it was religious or political:

"While it is true that the Constitution forbids public schools to promote religion, schools must be careful not to suppress the private religious expression of students," said ACLU of Michigan Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg, who represented the student. "In this case, a high school purported to create an open forum for student expression, yet censored a student's speech because it was religious in nature."

Taxpayers paying to send Bibles to troops? Not permitted, unless all religious texts are included equally. Military interfering with private Bible donations any more so than donations of any other book or text? Also prohibited. If GWB wants Karen to write a dedication as elegant as FDR's, and if the guvmint doesn't pay for the distribution, I say go for it. Your donation to ABS will probably help it happen.

Posted by: Matt at 3:22 AM on 16 December 2005

Well said Matt!

... nobobody wants to take religion away from anybody (at least I and my fellow atheists do not) ... And bibles? Give them to anybody who WANTS them. Just don't endorse religion under color of office or through taxpayer money.

Along the same tack ... It's unfortunate but a lot of vocal Christian people WANT a theocracy. I'm am afraid that if they ever get it they might get a big suprise when the powers that be then have to decide whose orthodoxy has precedence. Us minority voices saying "I told you so" will be little solace to those who suddenly find themselves unrepresented minorities within their own majority. The founding fathers had it right ... the tyranny of the majority is something to be avoided by checks and balances.

Posted by: Ron at 12:21 PM on 17 December 2005

"The tyranny of the majority is something to be avoided by checks and balances."

Yes, the framers of the Constitution ASSUMED corruption to be inevitable, and built in checks and balances wherever possible.

Where did they learn such wisdom? The Bible: "He who says he is without sin is a liar." (other refs as well).

Actually, I agree that it's spiritually unhealthy for Christians to be running a theocracy. Jesus' main point (and Paul's as well... and Martin Luther's...) was that as soon as religion becomes institutionalized, its most important aspects are lost. That's why Christianity goes through a continual upheaval or stagnation and renewal. Institutionalizing a state religion, whether you call it that or not, isn't healthy (on many levels) and isn't Christian.

Posted by: Mr. Snitch! at 7:00 PM on 18 December 2005