SCOTUS Endorses Government Prayer (updated)

The Supreme Court decision regarding the prayer practices of the town of Greece, New York is bad news for anyone who does not want to experience Christian prayers at government functions.

The real problem with this decision is that its overall philosophy moves further away from an endorsement test – the idea that the government should not endorse a specific religion – and towards a coercion test instead, verging on the idea that government can endorse religion without coercing citizens to follow that religion. Moreover, a couple justices took the opportunity to say they would like to see coercion defined even more narrowly, meaning that government would have an even wider scope to push religion. See more specific discussion at SCOTUSblog.

It is not an accident that justices who have experienced the least disadvantage in their lives tend to see coercion narrowly and don’t have a problem with endorsement, while those who have wider life experiences are more likely to think that endorsement slides into coercion and that both are a bad thing. People in the majority – in this case the religious majority – have not been subject to the myriad slings and arrows of everyday life that make one more thing, like your government expecting you to have the strength to withstand public, officially sanctioned disparagement, just too much to bear.

Specifically, this decision is a bad thing for Wiccans because to be realistic, in my lifetime we will not be on an equal footing with Christians, and this decision is all about accommodating the majority rather than protecting the minority. In the meantime, we run a serious risk of being used as cover – call it the “I Have a Wiccan Friend” defense. In other words, if a town council has to get a Wiccan one week out of the year (and a Jew once and a Buddhist once) so that they can have their exclusionary prayers to Jesus the other 49 weeks, they’ll do it, and those 49 weeks will do way more to reinforce the Christian sense of hegemony (we own this town – look at the meetings!) than that one week of pretend tolerance will.

Make no mistake, that one-week-a-year, or any similar plan, is tolerance, not inclusion. I have argued before and will argue again that there is no such thing as a fully inclusive prayer that covers all citizens, so the only truly inclusive option is no prayer at all.

Moreover, it looks to me at first glance like this decision’s details gave small governments a long list of ways to tailor their tolerance so that it’s not too burdensome on the Christian majority. It doesn’t seem like there’s any real burden for the government to be inclusive by any standard, for example. Saying that local governments may be run “informally” is a loophole big enough to drive the “Oh, it’s an accident that we forgot to invite any rabbis” truck right through.

EDITED: Originally, my last paragraph read:

Personally, I will continue to advocate for less appearance of government endorsing religion for any religion, mine included. I would not give an opening prayer at a government meeting even if I was specifically invited to do so. Others may make different decisions depending on circumstances, but please think carefully before participating in this misguided encroachment of government-sponsored religion.

EDITED TO ADD:

I am hearing some good arguments about why we should engage in exactly the kind of prayer that I firmly believe on fundamental principles should not be happening. I am not particularly swayed by the argument from equal misery: If they’re going to make us miserable, I am not convinced that we should make them miserable too. I am much more convinced by the argument that trying to participate in public prayer and being turned away could be – in the long term, on the order of decades – the foundation of a new case to get this crap overturned.

In the meantime and the near term, there is always the possibility that a sectarian Wiccan or Hellenistic or Druid prayer can be so repulsive to a Christian majority that the Christian majority decides not to hold the public prayers any longer. That would be similar to the attempt to install a Satanist monument in Oklahoma to “balance” the Ten Commandments monument.

I am not yet convinced that the potential harm done to others in the meantime is worth it, especially because of the risk of being used for “cover” in the way I describe above. I am willing to be convinced otherwise.

I don’t know how to balance the kind of activism for equal recognition of Wicca and Paganisms that I see going on in many places (military, prisons) with using Wicca as a weapon to get religion removed. How do I take action and try to communicate the subtext “Well, you could just not allow prayers here,” in one context, and in another context take an almost identical action with the subtext, “No, really, take me seriously, Wiccan prisoners have a real need for ministry?” How do we avoid having the kind of wiggle-arounds that are going to be used in prayer-giving contexts (oh, we’ll have everyone in on a rotation, that’ll work) applied to other contexts to marginalize us even further?

As I said, I’m willing to hear further arguments. I’m deeply torn about this matter and expect to spend some time contemplating while I’m away at Fertile Ground Gathering this weekend. That means I won’t be here to moderate comments or respond. We’ve got time. Let’s ground and center and think and talk together before we act.

Forbes taking the Maetreum seriously

One of my covenmates sent me a link to an item on the Forbes website about the recent victory of the Maetreum of Cybele in their court case to have their religious real estate ruled tax-exempt.

Especially given some of the recent discussions on coverage of Pagans and Paganism in mainstream media, it’s good to see us being covered in this, especially because the commenter is taking the Maetreum and its members pretty seriously. There’s one snide remark (which seems to imply that the commenter sees abstaining from sex as the defining characteristic of Catholic nuns, which seems odd to me), but otherwise a noticeable lack of “so-called” and “claim to be” kinds of language. At the end of the piece, the author does say that the closest analogy he can make in terms of tax rules is in fact a Catholic women’s order.

The commenter does say that he doesn’t think the behavior of the town in trying to charge the Maetreum taxes was motivated by bias. Bias and prejudice are remarkably difficult to prove, so I am actually less concerned about disagreeing with him on that point. What does concern me is that he argues there’s no prejudice against Pagans because tax-gathering authorities are trying to collect taxes from as many religious institutions as possible, including other “questionable” cases. If what he says is accurate, then even if there is absolutely no prejudice against Pagans or Goddess-worshippers, that means there’s still a concerning level of prejudice against non-traditional religions, namely, non-mainstream-Protestant organizations.

Now, whether the tax laws ought to have religious exemptions, including real estate exemptions, is a separate question. But as long as they do, the authorities in power have to be equal in enforcing those laws with respect to all religions. And that puts them in the sticky situation of determining what is and is not a “real” religion in some sense, for any given application. The gradual recognition of Pagan religions in these areas is a very real step forward. It’s certainly a victory for Pagans and Goddess-worshippers that this case came out the way it did. I hope it lays the groundwork for more such paths to acceptance in the future.

It’s also worth noting that this kind of coverage is also a step forward. Even though it may be annoying to see someone saying that there’s no bias – when so many of us experience bias and prejudice on many levels on a regular basis – the progress is noticeable on several levels. First, it’s being covered; second, it’s being covered seriously. And most interestingly, the coverage – while probably incorrect – overall suggests that Paganism is making progress towards being considered only a little bit weird. In America, with its rich and varied religious history of immigrants and home-grown variations (Mormonism and various kinds of charismatic Christianity being just the tip of the iceberg), it’s hopeful that once we’ve graduated to being only “acceptably weird,” we’re well on the way to fuller recognition.

On the whole, I think this article is actually a small follow-on success after the Maetreum’s court victory, and part of a trend of improvement in mainstream media coverage of Paganism. What do you think?

Virginia religious liberty: ACLU petition to lawmakers

The Virginia ACLU has a concise rundown of concerns with bills that threaten religious liberty, and an opportunity for you to contact your legislators about those bills.

I was thinking about the problems I had with a proposed amendment to the Virginia constitution, and I realized that I wrote something about this a while ago…oh, right, when I had to explain to a lawmaker that unless he wants me or someone like me opening a math class with an invocation to Kali to slay the demons of confusion, he really shouldn’t go there.

And now we’re back to the theme of empathetic imagination. We’ve seen this before: conservatives, or at least Christians, are so darn’ tootin’ sure that everyone is just like them, or that they can cow those who aren’t, that when they push through “religious liberty” and “freedom of prayer” measures, they only ever think about how good they’ll feel when praying to Jesus, and they assume – wrongly – that everybody who wants to pray to Jesus can get along. They never think about what the Jewish kid feels like, or the atheist, or, Powers forfend, the Wiccan.

And they never, ever think about how they might feel if the Wiccan was doing the praying.

You can tell, because when they do think about that, they come out in favor of  real religious liberty, the kind that the First Amendment was created to ensure.

So when necessary, remind your legislators what will happen if the microphone is in the other hand. Help them out with their empathetic imagination, because it’s a way to advance civil liberties for all of us. And besides, it’s fun. Goddess knows we have to keep our sense of humor somehow while we’re doing this, and hearing the tone of voice of a legislative assistant who is imagining a prayer to Kali for the first time ever can be just that little bit to keep us going.

Virginia recognizes me as clergy!

My reapplication today was successful! The Arlington County Court has officially granted me authorization to perform marriages.

Literata with authorization

The process was not entirely painless. Once again, the person who handles the paperwork – I’m not sure if she’s a secretary or what – asked for my congregation’s physical location. I told her that I had applied before, and that there was some confusion over this, because my group worships in multiple places. She then asked where they could contact me if they had any questions about a marriage license. (Note that she didn’t ask that the first time I applied – if all they had wanted then was my contact information, I would have gladly given it to them.) I indicated that my personal contact information on the letter I had included with my paperwork would be the way to contact me.

She had to go get approval from someone else; she said that the person who wrote the reply to Americans United for Separation of Church and State had to review my new application and paperwork. That took a little while, but she came back and said that it was approved, and then it was a matter of paying the fee, taking an oath to uphold the Constitution and the Constitution of Virginia and to do my duty fairly and impartially, and then I got the official authorization!

I sincerely hope that this means Wiccans and Pagans applying to the Arlington County Court will have less trouble having their authorizations granted in the future. I’m delighted to have my official recognition, of course, but this was never just about me. It’s small steps like this that break new ground along the path to full recognition, where Wicca and other Pagan religions are afforded the full benefit of equal treatment under the law.

For anyone who wants to apply in Arlington in the future, here’s what I took with me: Certificate of Ordination; Letter of good standing (to show that I am “in regular contact” with my religious organization); Certified copies of the articles of incorporation of the Order of the White Moon, the most recent business filing with California showing that the Order is still active; Copies of the letter from the IRS granting OWM its 501(c)3 tax exempt status and the most recent filing with the IRS showing that OWM is still active and exempt; Letters of support from Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, Ivo Dominguez Jr. of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, and Sacred Circle bookstore, attesting to my standing as a priestess and the ministry I do; and a letter of support from a coven sister who also lives in Arlington, because the court insisted that I show “a connection between [my] ministry and the Arlington community.”

My coven sister went with me to support her letter and act as a witness, and my husband also came to be a witness. I cannot thank them enough for taking time out of their busy schedules. Their presence helped tremendously, and I am sure that her letter showing a direct, personal connection to Arlington was a key piece of evidence to meet the court’s standards.

I am also deeply and sincerely grateful to everyone who supported me, especially Selena Fox, Ivo Dominguez, and my sisters in the Order of the White Moon; my thanks also go out to everyone who put energy into resolving this issue and making a positive difference for Pagan civil rights. The personal and magical support I got was amazing, and it made all the difference in the world. Thank you all.

I would like to particularly thank Americans United for Separation of Church and State, especially Ben Hazelwood, who worked with me directly. They sent the letters that showed the Arlington County Court in no uncertain terms that their actions were legally indefensible and got the court to clarify its requirements so that I could make this reapplication successful.

This is not the first time they have gone to bat for Pagan rights, either, as they were intimately involved with Selena Fox and the Lady Liberty League in bringing the Pentacle Quest to a successful conclusion. I strongly encourage all Pagans to support these organizations that are doing the hard work of defending our rights when we need it most.

Reapplying to the court on Monday

I have high hopes that the Arlington county court will recognize me as clergy soon!

The court responded to the letter from Americans United by apologizing for the “miscommunication” between the clerk of court and myself. They said that I did not need to give a physical location, I only needed to demonstrate a connection between my ministry and the Arlington community and provide my personal contact information, along with the requirements I had already fulfilled. On that basis, I will be reapplying on Monday morning. A member of my local coven has provided a letter of support attesting that I serve the Arlington community.

I would very much appreciate any good energy you want to send in support of my reapplication. I am doing magic to ensure that the process goes smoothly, without further issues being raised, and I sincerely hope that the court has learned about the importance of treating all religions equally.

AU sends letter in support of recognizing me as clergy

Today Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent a letter to the Arlington County Court in support of my application to perform weddings. They are very clear about the situation:

Your denial of Priestess Hurley’s application violated the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. We ask that you grant the application, as well as any similar applications that you may receive in the future.

The letter goes into great detail about the relevant legal precedents, including details of interpreting and applying the First Amendment and other Constitutional protections. It cites many instances of legal recognition of Wicca as a religion entitled to First Amendment protections, including applications of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and landmark cases for minority religious rights such as Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc v. City of Hialeah. They specifically state:

Your failure to recognize Priestess Hurley as a valid minister constitutes discrimination against the Wiccan faith and its adherents, in violation of three separate provisions of the U.S. Constitution.

The letter also addresses the only reason that the Clerk gave me for denying my application, pointing out that denying my application on the basis of not having a fixed address for my ministry is unsupportable based on the relevant sections of the Virginia code and would also discriminate against many other religious groups that meet at members’ homes or otherwise do not have a fixed address.

In addition to asking the court to grant my application, the letter concludes with the reminder:

To be constitutional, any policy concerning licenses to perform marriages must not discriminate against any non-traditional religion.

AU has asked the court to respond within 30 days.

I have been very grateful for the outpouring of support from Wiccans and Pagans both in Virginia and elsewhere. I have been gathering letters of support for when I reapply after  the court replies to AU.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State played a role in the Pentacle Quest and has stood up for Wiccan rights in numerous other situations. They are diligent watchdogs against unconstitutional activity and staunch supporters of minority religious rights. I strongly encourage Pagans all over the country to support AU, whether by becoming members, attending their events, or following their news online. They are currently organizing concerts for the end of this month in all 50 states as demonstrations in support of separation of church and state. To find out if there’s one near you, look up Voices United.

I’ll be posting further information when AU gets a reply from the court and I prepare to apply again. To contact me about sending a letter of support, telling your story of being recognized as clergy (especially in Virginia), or to get email updates about my situation, you can write to me at literatahurley@gmail.com

4th of July: Preparing for the long haul

Many people have commented or emailed me to offer their support and assistance with regard to the difficulty I’m having being recognized as clergy. I cannot thank everyone enough; simply knowing that I’m not alone makes a tremendous difference, and the information I’m getting is helping me get a better picture of the general situation about this issue in Virginia.

I want to keep everyone updated, but I’m not going to have news immediately. So what’s the best way to stay in touch with people who want to know about this issue and might be interested in helping in the future? I’ll obviously be posting about it here, but I expect this will take some time (see below), and I’ll also be posting about plenty of other things.

So what’s better? An email list? A Twitter hashtag? Tell me what you want in comments and I’ll do my best to make it happen.

Because this is going to take time. And I’m going to need help – including your help.

As my dear friend Hecate has brilliantly explained, this is not a simple matter, so the first reason it’s taking time is that I really need legal advice. I have requests in with the ACLU and AU, but they get a lot of requests. The ACLU says it usually takes “several weeks” to get back to people about possible advice.

In the meantime, several people have urged me to simply go to a jurisdiction that is known to be more accepting of Pagan credentials. I am seriously considering that option; if I had a couple who wanted me to officiate at their wedding immediately, I would certainly do that, and I understand why many people would take that easier path.

But, as Hecate said, this time it’s personal. Arlington is my home jurisdiction; it’s where I live, and where I do a lot of my ministry, and where I hope to do more ministry in the future. Here in Arlington is one of the places where there are – finally – pentacles on military headstones. I don’t see why I should have to go somewhere else, and I might be just stubborn enough to stand on principle on this issue.

As another dear friend has pointed out, rights that are recognized or not based on where you go or who you ask aren’t really rights; they’re privileges granted or withheld at the whim of those with power.

And perhaps I have some advantages that will allow me to challenge this where other Pagans and Wiccans haven’t: I don’t have a job to lose; I don’t have kids to be bullied in school or taken away in a custody battle; I may have the time and energy for this. If I can stand up to this, and I can find people willing to help me, then putting those advantages to work trying to make sure that Pagans get equal treatment under law may be a way to give back.

None of this means that I’m spoiling for a fight. I sincerely hope this can be resolved without litigation. If this is a misunderstanding, let’s correct it. If it is the case that Arlington county applies its rules in ways that are significantly different from other counties and discriminate against minority religions, let’s see if we can get the rules changed. This is where things like public awareness and letter-writing and so on can be vital, where you – you as an individual – can really make a difference.

But it’s going to take time. Shortly after the refusal, I went to Theodore Roosevelt Island, one of my favorite places in the DC area, and a place I consider my “home” park, my favorite place to be in a more natural setting, to ground and breathe and watch the river and feel the sun. And suddenly I saw an animal I’d never seen there before: a turtle.

I laughed, and I sighed a little, and I looked up at the sky and down at the ground, and said “Alright, I hear you. You’re telling me this is going to take time.” That’s not really what I wanted to hear right then, but nature and my deities tend to tell me what I need to hear, rather than what I want to hear.

So this 4th of July I’m sitting at Columbia‘s feet contemplating what may be a long journey. Like so many other things she symbolizes, freedom of religion is a beautiful promise that we have to work out here in messy reality. In her “shining city on a swamp” we build dreams of justice on the imperfect foundation of law, created as it is through often ugly but still vitally important politcs. It’s a difficult process, and it will take time, and it will take help.

You tell me: what’s the best way to stay in touch so that we can walk this path together?

Virginia refuses to recognize me as clergy

Update: Virginia did eventually recognize me as clergy!

The Arlington County Court refused to grant me the right to perform marriages in Virginia, apparently on  the grounds that my “congregation” does not own a building.

I presented my certificate of ordination and documentation of the 501c3 status of the Order of the White Moon, which ordained me. Since my Order is incorporated in California, the secretary asked me if I had a congregation in Virginia; I said yes. She asked me to list the address of the congregation, and I said that we don’t have a building. She asked, “So, what, you just meet in each other’s homes?” I said yes, we meet in each other’s homes, or out of doors (Wicca is, after all, an earth-based religion, but I thought that mentioning that would only be prejudicial to my situation).

She left and came back with the Clerk of Court, Paul Ferguson. Mr. Ferguson said that they were not going to approve me. I asked if it was because we don’t have a building. He said, “Yes, you don’t have a building, and there were a few other things.” I asked him if he would give me a written list of the reasons I was being denied. He refused; he offered to show me the relevant section (Sec 20-23) of the Virginia Code. I assured him that I had read the Code, and asked again if he would give me more specific reasons I was being denied. He said that approving these applications was at his “discretion” and that he didn’t “feel” I met the qualifications, but he wouldn’t tell me how. He told me that I could apply to another court in another county but that he thought they would probably give me the same answer.

Has property ownership now become the measure of what constitutes a “real” religion in Virginia, or at least in Arlington County? Or is this another example of anti-Pagan discrimination at work?

Patchwork enforcement and a history of discrimination

Virginia is one of the few states in the US that requires clergy members to register with a circuit court in order to be able to perform valid marriages. The requirements in Sec 20-23 of the Code state that the minister must present proof of ordination and “of his being in regular communion” with the organization that ordained him.

These requirements are apparently interpreted in widely varying ways across various circuits in Virginia, as different courts’ websites list different types of documentation – or none – that may be required. For courts that openly state they require more than just proof of ordination, the way they ask for information gives tremendous privilege to traditionally-organized, i.e., Christian, groups. And if granting these applications really is up to the “discretion” of the Clerk of Court, there is wide scope for potential discrimination against minority religions with or without the fig leaf of requiring a “location” and other organizational trappings potentially beyond the reach of minority religious organizations.

This problem goes back more than a decade; in 1999, the ACLU helped another Wiccan priestess get her application in this situation approved.

I think it’s not unreasonable that I am concerned about what kind of documentation will satisfy the court. I serve multiple groups, one of which meets in a designated location, but since it is an open circle, the people who attend are mostly not members of my ordaining organization. If I provide documentation of this group meeting in a specific location, will the court then ask how many people attend, and how often we meet? What will they require to conclude that I am “really” a High Priestess in a “real” religion?

Why this matters

This is about more than performing weddings. This decision has a chilling effect on me trying to function as clergy in other ways; if the Court will not recognize me as legitimate clergy in this situation, will my right to confidentiality be protected? How can I assure people who come to me for counseling that their communications with me are protected by clergy privilege?

And since this is one of the two major forms of government approval used by a wide range of institutions and organizations to determine whether someone is a “real” clergy member, it can impact my ability to reach out to those who have particular needs: people in hospitals, the military, and prisons all need clergy services, but those institutions are much more likely to deny me the ability to minister to the people involved if I can’t say that I’m approved by the State of Virginia to perform marriages.

And although I might have my application granted if I tried another court, that does nothing to resolve the doubt cast on my status by the court with jurisdiction over where I live and do most of my ministry. If another court approved me, it would only serve to highlight the irregular and potentially biased variations in granting recognition across jurisdictions.

What you can do

I currently plan to gather additional supporting documentation and reapply, and if I am denied again, to ask whether I can appeal to a judge of the court. I am also currently seeking advice from the ACLU, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and the Lady Liberty League. Here’s what you can do to help:

First, get the word out. The more Pagans pull together, the better our chances of being recognized as “legitimate” in these kinds of situations.

If you are a Pagan clergyperson in Virginia and you have applied to perform marriages, please write to me at literatahurley@gmail.com. If you were approved, I’d like to know when you were approved, in what court, with what paperwork, and what questions they asked, both written and verbal. People who have been declined, please tell me that too. The more information I have for comparison the better.

I would also like to be able to present letters of support from other Pagan clergy and potentially from Pagan organizations that ordain people, especially ones that ordain people all over the country. If you’re interested, please contact me. And if you have other ideas about how to help, please  speak up!

People who aren’t in Virginia, please provide spiritual and magical support. Pray and send energy that I am able to gather the evidence I need and make a convincing argument, that the court will grant my new application swiftly, and that I may stay positive and be patient throughout this whole process.

I sincerely hope that together we can ensure this is the last time a Pagan in Virginia has her credentials questioned and her status as clergy denied.

Unequal Rites

The magnificent Board Administration Team at The Slacktiverse suggested “Unequal Rites” as the title for their cross-post of my story about being refused clergy status in Virginia. I’m going to borrow that title here to share just a little bit more personal reflection about why what seems like no big deal – the ability to sign marriage licenses – matters so much to me and, I think, to the Pagan community.

I had mixed feelings about getting the ability to sign marriage licenses because I don’t think that the government should require couples to get married by someone else, whether that person is clergy or a justice of the peace or whatever. I think that marriage or handfasting is a bond formed by the couple themselves; for the government’s purposes they should tell the government that they have formed – or dissolved – such a bond, but in my religious and personal understanding, the couple themselves are the ones responsible. They don’t need me to “marry” them. I don’t want to have any “power vested in me” by the State of Virginia.

But I do want to be able to help people meet the government requirements for this important event. Our society isn’t going to move in the direction I would prefer anytime soon, and in the meantime, people want to be married/handfasted, and they want government recognition of that status. This is an important life cycle event, and while some people will go the civil route, most people continue to expect the religious ceremony to grant them the legal status also.

I concluded that I would treat my role in “marrying” people as being a kind of court reporter: for its own reasons, which I disagree with, the government only allows certain people to sign marriage licenses. I decided that in applying for the right to sign marriage licenses, I was jumping through hoops in order to help people in the Pagan community meet government requirements. (As I noted in the previous piece, it’s also a vital part of being recognized by other institutions as “real” clergy, which is crucially important to me.)

And it’s also important, I think, that this is one of the things that forces people who might not otherwise participate actively in religion to interface with clergy. Like it or not, the civil ceremony is still seen as a less-desirable backup option, so getting married causes all sorts of people – spiritual but not religious, solitary practitioner, whatever – to seek out a clergy person with compatible beliefs and practices. By being such a clergy person, I can potentially serve a lot more people than are members of my Order, or my coven, or any other group.

The Supreme Court has ruled that we have a fundamental right to marry. (Loving v Virginia – yes, the same state of Virginia which I am currently struggling with!) We are slowly but surely moving towards extending marriage equality to people regardless of gender. But this is about more than the simple legal status of marriage; it’s also about how that status is conferred.

Pagans shouldn’t have to go to Christian clergy in order to be married. They shouldn’t have their religion denigrated by the government so that they have to go the “alternate route” of having a civil ceremony as well if they don’t want to.

Having our rights means having our rites.

Nonsectarian is no substitute for tolerance

I’m a little late to the party celebrating the latest success of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, but I thought I’d add my two cents anyway.

MRFF succeeded in getting some material removed from the Squadron Officers’ School curriculum – which the Air Force describes as the “first step” in professional military education that all officers undertake – because that material said that officers needed to go to chapel.

As the MRFF pointed out, this is unconstitutional on its face because it constitutes government advancement of religion and because it could create an unconstitutional religious test for office. The Air Force yanked the reading. Progress!

I’d like to point out one other thing here, though, that is becoming increasingly irritating to me. Part of the offensive language in the reading states:

“If you attend chapel regularly, both officers and Airmen are likely to follow this example,” according to the paper. “If you are morally lax in your personal life, a general moral indifference within the command can be expected.”

This says, in effect, that the only way to be a good person – and a good officer! – is to go to chapel. And while “chapel” could theoretically be seen as a “non-denominational” term, its connotation is blatantly Christian, especially in the Air Force. Sure, some “chapel” facilities also host Jewish services – those are okay, they’re almost like honorary Christians – and if you’re lucky, your command isn’t prejudiced against Muslims – but the message here is an unsubtle “Be an active, practicing Christian.”

Non-denominational is not an acceptable substitute for tolerant.

This is why as a member of a minority religion my goal is not to somehow get “approval” from the Real Religions so that I can be a junior member and have an acceptable alternative way to fulfill the “spiritual practice” expectation, so that then they can use me as an example of how “tolerant” and considerate they are, even when they’re not.

Do I want recognition? Sure – it’s an important means to protect my practice. But I don’t want to become part of pushing some kind of practice on everybody else. In situations like this, my goal is to get the spiritual practice expectation removed entirely. That will help me and my coreligionists, but also practitioners of other minority religions, agnostics, atheists, and, ultimately, everybody.