The United States Space Force is only a few weeks old, having been authorized as part of a Defense Department authorization bill. The Space Force has not established a permanent headquarters, acquired any weapons systems, or even chosen its unique uniforms. The new branch of the service has, however, endured its first scandal.
Fox News explains that as part of the ceremony to swear in General John Raymond as the very first Chief of Space Operations, an official Bible was selected and consecrated at the National Cathedral in Washington D. C. The Bible was a copy of the King James Bible that was donated by the Museum of the Bible. The Reverend Carl Wright, the Episcopal Church’s bishop suffragan for armed services and federal ministries, performed the ceremony along with Maj General Steven Shaick, the Air Force chief of chaplains.
The ceremony included a blessing for President Donald Trump, the commander in chief who initiated the creation of the United States Space Force.
“Almighty God, who set the planets in their courses and the stars in space, Look with favor, we pray you, upon the commander in chief, the 45th president of this great nation, who looked to the heavens and dared to dream of a safer future for all mankind.”
The ceremony roused the wrath of an organization calling itself the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF.) The MRFF shot a hotly worded complaint to Secretary of Defense Mike Esper. The complaint read in part:
“The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) condemns, in as full-throated a manner as is humanly possible, the shocking and repulsive display of only the most vile, exclusivist, fundamentalist Christian supremacy, dominance, triumphalism, and exceptionalism which occurred at yesterday’s ‘blessing’, at the Washington National Cathedral, of a sectarian Christian bible which will apparently be used to swear in all commanders of America’s newest military branch (ie. The United States Space Force).”
The MRFF is not an atheist group. It’s head, Mike Weinstein, is a practicing Jew. However, its orientation seems to be decidedly anti-Christian. It feels that fundamentalist Christianity is a problem in the armed forces.
The group threatens legal action in federal court if the Defense Department does not foreswear the practice of using a Christian Bible for swearing ins of officials at any level. Such a practice, it goes almost without saying, violates the separation of church and state and must not be allowed, lest a theocracy or something similar is allowed.
One problem is that presidents and most lawmakers have been sworn into office using the Bible since the beginning of the Republic. Hot Air notes that some recent members of Congress have been allowed to place their hand on the Koran as befitting their adherence to Islam. The oath administered to witnesses in court proceedings can mention God or not depending on the adherence of the individual being sworn in.
The objection appears to stem from the fact that uniformed military officers, including a chaplain, were present at the ceremony. Military officers are, as a rule, not sworn into the commands to which they have been assigned.
Still, objections continued. Steven Strauss, a visiting professor at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, was succinct on Twitter, “So no Jews, Atheists, Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, Sikhs allowed in Space Force?”
Presumably, people of those faiths (or no faith in the case of atheists) would be offered appropriate books to place their hands on, just like everyone else being sworn into an office or as a witness during a trial.
Space and what constitutes the separation of church and state is an old story. During the flight of Apollo 8, the astronauts performed a reading of the Book of Genesis during a television broadcast of the surface of the moon. Atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair filed suit in federal court on the theory that NASA, being a government agency, ought not to allow religious expressions by astronauts on space missions.
Even though the suit was eventually thrown out at the Supreme Court level, the space agency decided to discourage open religious expressions by their astronauts. Buzz Aldrin took holy communion on the lunar surface but was compelled to keep quiet about it because of the edict.
If the threatened MRFF case gets to court, presumably it will be settled by a promise by the Space Force to accommodate people of all faiths (or no faith) just like every other federal institution has managed to do.