A Hawaii Marine Corps base has come under fire from a nonprofit civil rights organization because of a religious themed sign.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation has sent a message to MCB Hawaii commanding officer Col. Sean C. Killeen proclaiming that the sign — which says "God bless the military, their families and the civilians who work with them" — should come down and be moved to the base's chapel. According to the Marine Corps Times, the sign was erected on the base following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
"This sign is a brazen violation of the No Establishment clause of the Constitution, as it sends the clear message that your installation gives preference to those who hold religious beliefs over those who do not, and those who prefer a monotheistic, intervening god over other deities or theologies," Blake A. Page wrote in the letter to Killeen. "We recognize the value that religious activity brings to the lives of many, however this sign is not in keeping with the time, place, and manner restrictions required by law [or] for any military commander to bolster religious principles through the official authority given to their rank and position."
Page is the special assistant to the MRFF president, Mikey Weinstein who told the Marine Corps Times that 23 active-duty Marines made the organization aware of the sign. Weinstein said 21 of those Marines are Protestant, and they have all been unwilling to lodge formal complaints with their chain of command for fear of retaliation.
MRFF published an email allegedly from a Christian Marine on its website in which the Marine praised the MRFF's work on the Hawaiian base.
"When it is not on chapel grounds it is divisive," Weinstein said of the sign. "It is elevating the concept of one faith over no faith, which the Supreme Court has made very clear is wrong, and so we have asked the commander — you know this sign is clearly not within the time, place and manner restrictions required by the law — and so we've asked him to move it to the chapel grounds or take off the installation altogether."
The Star Advertiser reported that Capt. Tim Irish, spokesman for MCB Hawaii, said they had received the MRFF's emailed complaint, and the base was looking into the situation. Irish also said the Base Inspector's Office was investigating into whether or not there had been complaints about the sign in the past.
"[MCB Hawaii] will exercise due diligence to ensure compliance with existing regulations and law, including the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution," Irish said.
Weinstein said if the base continues to allow the sign to stand where it is, they would have to allow other signs that said, "There is no God to bless our military, their families, and the civilians who work with them," and signs alluding to "Allah, Satan or the flying spaghetti monster."
In a statement, the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, a Christian group of chaplain endorsers, said the MRFF's complaints are "unfounded."
"Only someone with a great misunderstanding of the First Amendment or an axe to grind against religion would claim that such a slogan poses a threat or in any way unconstitutional," Chaplain Ron Crews, the group's executive director, said. "The real threat is posed by those who want to whitewash any reference to God from public discourse — even ones as innocuous and uplifting as this one."
"'God bless our military' is a slogan little different than the official national motto, 'In God we trust,' that appears so publicly on our money, and the courts have repeatedly upheld it," Crews said. "From the founding of our country, every president, including President Obama, has called on God to bless America."