A veterans group that opposes religious displays in public areas has sparked outrage over its criticism of the use of a Bible in a blessing ceremony for the newly created U.S. Space Force at the Washington National Cathedral.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation objected to a ceremony this month at the Episcopal church that featured the Air Force’s top chaplain and a King James Bible donated by the Museum of the Bible. In a since-deleted tweet, the National Cathedral said the Bible would be used to swear in “all commanders” in Space Force.
Foundation founder Mikey Weinstein said in a letter last week to Defense Secretary Mark Esper “this ‘blessing’ event and its concomitant widespread dissemination, publicized as an official U.S. armed forces event, is in practical effect declaring the newly formed United States Space Force to be a uniquely and exclusionary Christian military service.”
An official with First Liberty Institute, a law firm that defends religious freedom and expression, called the veteran group’s reaction “a publicity stunt.”
“Using a Bible to swear-in the first ever Chief of Staff of the Space Force is in keeping with a great American tradition,” said Michael Berry, chief of staff at First Liberty. “Presidents, members of Congress, and judges use the Bible when they take the oath office. And let’s not forget that some of the first words ever spoken from space were from the Book of Genesis.”
The event at issue occurred Jan. 12, when Air Force Chief of Chaplains Maj. Gen. Steven Schaick joined the Rev. Randolph Hollerith, dean of the National Cathedral, and Episcopal Bishop Carl Wright in a blessing ceremony. A tweet on the cathedral’s official account said the Bible “will be used to swear in all commanders of America’s newest military branch.”
The National Cathedral did not respond to requests for comment, but the tweet has been deleted.
The Air Force, which oversees the new military branch, did not respond to a request for comment. In an email to NPR, an Air Force spokesperson said “there is no official religious or other sacred text, nor is there any requirement for a member to use any sacred or religious text, during swearing-in ceremonies.”
In the ceremony, Mr. Wright asked God to “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.”
Mr. Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation called for an official investigation of the event and told The Washington Times that he had heard from officials within the Pentagon who recoiled at the suggestion that a “religious test” would be necessary to obtain a leadership position within Space Force.
“They know that we’re in a war with extremist Islam now, and this [dedication of a Space Force Bible] is going to recruit incredible numbers of men and women in the Arabian Peninsula,” he said.
In addition, the Freedom From Religion Foundation issued a statement saying it had complained to the Pentagon about the apparent violation of the separation of church-and-state.
“The oath that Space Force commanders will take is a solemn promise to defend not the bible but our Constitution, with their lives if necessary,” the group’s presidents, Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, said in a letter to Mr. Esper and Gen. John W. Raymond, the nation’s first chief of space operations.
U.S. Space Force was founded on Dec. 20, and its strategic headquarters is in California.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation previously led the charge against a Bible on display at a POW/MIA display table at a New Hampshire VA hospital and the Army’s endorsement of replica dog tags bearing Bible verses.
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