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Lawmakers Join Jones' Call for President to Protect Military Chaplains' First Amendment Rights

Location: Washington, DC

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Washington, D.C.-In a letter today to President Bush, 69 Members of Congress joined Third District Representative Walter B. Jones (R-NC) in urging the President to protect by Executive Order the constitutional right of military chaplains to pray according to their faith. In a Capitol Hill press conference last week, Representatives Mike McIntyre (D-NC), Todd Akin (R-MO), Trent Franks (R-AZ), Mike Conaway (R-TX) and Jim Ryun (R-KS) joined Jones to call attention to the pervasive problem of the suppression of religious freedom throughout our nation's Armed Services.

Expressing their concern for those who have suffered from restrictions placed on the religious expressions of their faith, Members of Congress sent the following letter to President Bush:

We are disappointed and gravely concerned to learn that the right of military chaplains to pray according to their faith is in jeopardy. As you may know, the Air Force leadership recently released proposed guidelines that will restrict how Air Force chaplains can pray, and if approved, those guidelines may well be implemented throughout the entire DoD. We believe that the Air Force's suppression of religious freedom is a pervasive problem throughout our nation's Armed Forces, and it has come to our attention that in all branches of the military it is becoming increasingly difficult for Christian chaplains to use the name of Jesus when praying. There are currently no laws or regulations that prohibit chaplains from praying according to their respective denominations or different faiths, and we are deeply concerned that chaplains are now being instructed on what to say when they pray.

Throughout our nation's history, chaplains not only have remained an integral part of our military, but they also have always prayed according to their faith tradition. We believe that if chaplains are chosen to pray before a professional setting, they have a constitutional right to adhere to the religious expressions of their faith. For Christian chaplains, praying in the name of Jesus is a fundamental part of their belief and to suppress this form of expression would be a violation of religious freedom.

The current demand in the guidelines for so-called "non-sectarian" prayers is merely a euphemism declaring that prayers will be acceptable only so long as they censor Christian beliefs. Current surveys in the military indicate that upwards of 80 percent of soldiers identify themselves as Christians, and such censorship of Christian beliefs is a disservice not only to Christian chaplains, but also to the hundreds of thousands of Christian soldiers in the military who look to their chaplains for comfort, inspiration, and support, just as our military soldiers of other faiths look to their chaplains.

While some military members may find certain prayers to be offensive and wrongly claim that they are not non-pluralistic, we believe these restrictions raise constitutional issues involving the Establishment, Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment (There are numerous other offensive provisions throughout the proposed guidelines, including the onerous provision that chaplains can only speak of their faith with officers-the "peer to peer" provision). Officially inhibiting or defining what chaplains can and cannot say in effect establishes an official religion and burdens our military's chaplains' right of free speech.

We are requesting that you, as Commander and Chief, protect by Executive Order the constitutional right of military chaplains to pray according to their faith.

With deep concern,

Walter B. Jones
Sam Johnson
John Hostettler
Joel Hefley
Robert Aderholt
Joseph Pitts
Trent Franks
Scott Garrett
Virginia Foxx
Dave Weldon
Randy Neugebauer
Michael Bilirakis
John Culberson
Melissa Hart
Louie Gohmert
Virgil Goode, Jr.
Darrell Issa
Michael E. Sodrel
J. Gresham Barrett
Jo Ann Davis
Frank R. Wolf
Henry Brown
Steve Chabot
Jeb Hensarling
Rob Bishop
Spencer Bachus
Ron Lewis
Steve King
Robin Hayes
Marilyn Musgrave
Mike McIntyre
Jim Ryun
J. Randy Forbes
Ron Paul
Tom Price
Bob Beauprez
W. Todd Akin
Donald Manzullo
Mark Souder
K. Michael Conaway
Charles W. "Chip" Pickering
Todd Tiahrt
Katherine Harris
Sue Myrick
Roger Wicker
Howard P. "Buck" McKeon
Gil Gutknecht
John Sullivan
John R. Carter
Bob Inglis
Bobby Jindal
Michael McCaul
C.L. "Butch" Otter
Dan Burton
Jeff Miller
Rodney Alexander
Joe Wilson
Mike Rogers (AL)
Luis Fortuño
Michael Turner
Wally Herger
Michael C. Burgess
Phil Gingrey
Bob Goodlatte
Charles Taylor
Charlie Norwood
James M. Inhofe
Marsha Blackburn
Patrick McHenry
Jim Talent

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