GOP Push for Sectarian Public Prayers in Military Opposed by Orthodox Group

By Jennifer Siegel

Published September 26, 2006, issue of September 29, 2006.
  • Print
  • Share Share

In their fight to pass legislation allowing military chaplains to offer sectarian prayers at public services, conservative congressional leaders have lost an erstwhile ally: the Orthodox Union.

The O.U., an organization that represents about 1,000 congregations and often joins Christian conservatives in their fight to lower the wall separating church and state, has weighed in with a letter to the ranking members of the armed services committees in the opposing the measure to permit public sectarian prayers in the military.

We “urge you to ensure that no language is included in the [Defense Department Authorization] bill which upsets the delicate balance between the core religious liberties of either chaplains or the military personnel they serve,” the O.U. wrote. “The best course of action at this stage is to defer any legislation until your committees can have full and thorough hearings on the issues.”

This past May, the House of Representatives passed an amendment to the defense bill, giving military chaplains more leeway to conduct sectarian prayers. While current law requires chaplains to pray in an inclusive manner at public occasions — for example, by omitting references to Jesus Christ — the new measure would give chaplains the “prerogative to pray according to the dictates of the chaplain’s own conscience, except as must be limited by military necessity, with any such limitation being imposed in the least restrictive manner.”

The Senate version of the defense bill passed in July did not include that change. This week, leaders of the armed services committees in both chambers are negotiating over the final bill, which is stalled as leaders in House attempt to ensure the inclusion of several controversial measures, including a federal court security bill and a controversial House anti-illegal-immigration measure.

In the past, the O.U. has taken a less public stance on religious controversies involving the military, according to Nathan Diament, director of the group’s Institute for Public Affairs. Diament said that he lobbied behind the scenes last year, when a similar measure was introduced.

This month, four Jewish groups — the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism — joined several national Christian groups in sending a letter of opposition to all members of the House. That letter, more sharply worded than the O.U.’s, described the proposed measure as a “clear attempt to undercut” guidelines adopted by the Air Force earlier this year in the wake of a scandal over religious coercion at the United States Air Force Academy.

Find us on Facebook!
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.