Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California
In mid-September 2011, various news outlets reported a ban on relatives and friends of wounded service personnel bringing bibles and other religious reading materials into Water Reed military hospital. The offensive statement reads: “No religious items (i.e. Bibles, reading material, and/or artifacts) are allowed to be given away or used during a visiti.” Due to an outcry from various religious groups, this egregious policy was rescinded by December 2011. Thank God for that! But the fact that such a policy was even thought of, let alone promulgated, is an affront to God and Country.
Religious freedom is guaranteed and protected by the Constitution of the United States itself. The first amendment of the Constitution reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
The operative term in the amendment regarding religion is making no law "prohibiting the free exercise thereof." In thinking up and initiating the now rescinded hospital policy, someone took it upon themselves to unilaterally interpret the words of the Constitution to impose on all 'freedom from religion' - which actually amounts to a prohibition of religion. An affront to our country and its religious tradition.
The fact that officials of a government hospital considered, and until protests mounted, implemented this policy, unfortunately, gives the appearance that God is unimportant in the hearts, minds and actions of these administrators. An affront to God Himself. Considering that we live in an age of increasing disregard for human life, economic decline, and military and political exploitation, if there was ever a time in our country that we need Godly moral guidance and leadership, it is in these troubled times.
A good model for the inclusion of freedom of religion in all of society is the service of Chaplains. The United States Military has understood the need for such moral leadership by having a strong Chaplain presence in all branches of the Armed Forces. Various civilian agencies also know the importance of chaplains who can provide guidance on moral and morale issues, and religious understanding, and who can perform religious services for those who want them and render counseling and emotional support to those who serve and to those whom they, in turn, serve. Chaplains now include those of all religious orientations: Buddhist, Christian, Hebrew, Islamic and many others.
For those of us who feel persecuted by individuals who want to remove God from society, we may take solace in the words of our Eastern Church Spiritual Father St. Philotheos of Sinai: "None of the things that happen to us every day will injure or distress us once we perceive and meditate on their purpose [God]."ii St. John (Rev 21: 5) tells us of God: "Behold, I make all things new." Let us work with God, especially in the face of persecution, to make sure we keep Him at the forefront of our lives, our nation and all the world.
ii Palmer, G.E.H., Sherrard, P. & Ware, K. (Eds.). (1986). The Philokalia,: The Complete Text; Compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain & St. Makarios of Corinth. (Vol. 3). London: Faber and Faber