By Chris Rodda
While the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) is extremely pleased by the announcement that President Obama is replacing Army Secretary Pete Geren, a man who is clearly among those who view the current wars as a religious struggle, we have grave concerns about nominee John McHugh, whose record in Congress indicates that he is no friend of the protections guaranteed by the First Amendment, a standpoint that could have serious ramifications with respect to the already crumbled wall between religion and the military, and further weaken the right of our soldiers to be free from government sanctioned religious coercion and discrimination.
Lest McHugh’s 90% approval rating from the Christian Coalition not be enough of a tip-off that his views on religion and the government might pose just a bit of a problem when it comes to curtailing the rampant and rapidly accelerating synthesis of our military and fundamentalist Christianity, here are a few examples from his legislative record to show how he earned that 90% approval rating.
McHugh has consistently co-sponsored legislation to amend the U.S. Constitution in a way that would reduce the First Amendment’s establishment clause to prohibiting nothing more than the government establishing an official religion. There have been several proposed resolutions calling for such an amendment during McHugh’s tenure in the House, and McHugh has co-sponsored them all. The following was the language of one of these resolutions, “Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States restoring religious freedom,” introduced in the 107th Congress.
“Neither the United States nor any State shall establish any official religion, but the people’s right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage, and traditions on public property, including schools, shall not be infringed.”
Even more alarming, however, was McHugh’s co-sponsoring of the “Pledge Protection Act,” both as H.R. 2389 in the 109th Congress, when it was passed by the House but not the Senate, and when it was reintroduced as H.R. 699 in the 110th Congress. If passed, this resolution, “To amend title 28, United States Code, with respect to the jurisdiction of Federal courts over certain cases and controversies involving the Pledge of Allegiance,” would have set one of the most dangerous precedents in our country’s history — the stripping by Congress of the authority granted to the federal courts under Article 3 of the Constitution to hear “all Cases…arising under this Constitution.” (For a more complete explanation of “Pledge Protection Act,” and how it would have perilously eroded the bedrock constitutional principle of the separation of powers for the sake of keeping “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, see this previous post.)
Immediately upon hearing of McHugh’s nomination, MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein issued the following statement:
“President Obama’s nomination of Congressman McHugh to be Secretary of the United States Army is yet another glaring warning that this new Commander in Chief simply will NOT engage the chronically serious national security threat extant in our U.S. military from far right Christian fundamentalism run amuck. McHugh’s atrocious Congressional voting record on church-state matters of consequence brands him as just another Christian supremacist tarantula on the American Constitutional wedding cake. There are so very many other highly qualified candidates for this powerful Pentagon position. What a sad travesty that the President chose this clearly suboptimal person. Just as in the movie ‘Top Gun,’ when the Tom Cruise character, during the climactic aerial dogfight was hesitating to join his navy comrades in the furious air battle, MRFF asks the simple question of President Obama; Maverick, when are you EVER going to engage?”
Chris Rodda is the Senior Research Director for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) and the author of Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right’s Alternate Version of American History.