The First Amendment prohibits a mandatory national religion. It does not go the full Nietzsche and declare that “God is dead.” You’d never know that, though, from the Department of Justice decision to cut funding for two youth organizations simply because the sheriff running the programs refused to sign a pledge promising to ban prayer or any mention of God at the organizations’ meetings.
Bossier Parish, Louisiana, has a Young Marines chapter and a youth diversion program. The Young Marines is not part of the United States Marines. It’s a community-based program youth program, many of whose adult volunteers are former, retired, active duty, or reserve Marines. The youth diversion program has a voluntary student-led prayer, while the Young Marines take an oath that – gasp! – mentions God:
From this day forward, I sincerely promise, I will set an example for all other youth to follow and I shall never do anything that would bring disgrace or dishonor upon God, my Country and its flag, my parents, myself or the Young Marines. These I will honor and respect in a manner that will reflect credit upon them and myself. Semper Fidelis.
Because of these generic references to God, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) defunded both organizations, despite the fact that they’ve successfully helped more than a thousand young people in the parish. The programs are therefore $30,000 poorer.
Julian Whittington, Bossier Parish’s sheriff, is furious about what happened. As far as he’s concerned, this was government “aggression and infringement of our religious freedoms.” In an interview with Fox News, Whittington explained what the DOJ told the groups:
We were informed that these are unacceptable, inherently religious activities and the Department of Justice would not be able to fund the programs if it continued. They wanted a letter from me stating that I would no longer have voluntary prayer and I would also have to remove ‘God’ from the Young Marine’s oath.
Fox obtained correspondence from a DOJ attorney and discovered that what particularly upset the DOJ was the part of the Young Marine’s oath stating promising to “Keep myself clean in mind by attending the church of my faith.” As far as the attorney was concerned sponsoring this chapter of the Young Marines meant “funding on inherently religious activities, such as prayer, religious instruction and proselytization.” This violated the rule that “any religious activities must be kept separate in time or location from DOJ-funded activities.”
Rep. John Fleming, R. La., doesn’t see this just as an attack on one Louisiana parish that has successfully helped more than 1,000 young people with its program. Instead, he sees it as part of a broader Obama administration effort to attack religion (or, more accurately, the Christian faith) wherever it appears in American life:
There is a very wide effort coming out of the administration that seeks to stamp out freedom of expressions – particularly religion and especially freedom of Christian expression. They are willing to throw the youth overboard and remove the funding just in the name of making this an atheist, agnostic, secular organization.