Last week, I documented more than a dozen ways in which, in just the past six months, the Obama administration is trampling on the religious liberties of America's finest military service members. (If you haven't read Part 1, you can find it here.)
I am very disappointed by the dissolution of religious liberties in the U.S. military. Times have sadly and radically changed since my father served in World War II, since I served four years in the Air Force and since my two brothers, Wieland and Aaron, served in the Army in Vietnam. (My brother Wieland paid the ultimate price there in the line of duty.)
I thank God that I served in the Air Force during a time in which moral absolutes and a deep reverence for God pervaded culture, especially the military. No service member was ashamed or afraid to express his faith in God or his Christian beliefs. In fact, the very thought that service members would somehow have to protect or defend their Christian faith would have seemed ludicrous.
Remember that it was only a few short decades ago when a commander in chief spoke passionately about his Christian faith. President Ronald Reagan said this before the lighting of the national Christmas tree Dec. 16, 1982: "In this holiday season, we celebrate the birthday of one who, for almost 2,000 years, has been a greater influence on humankind than all the rulers, all the scholars, all the armies and all the navies that ever marched or sailed, all put together. ... It's also a holy day, the birthday of the Prince of Peace, a day when 'God so loved the world' that he sent us his only begotten son to assure forgiveness of our sins."
The First Amendment secures our total religious rights and liberties: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The American Civil Liberties Union and like-minded groups, such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation, are not preserving First Amendment rights; they are perverting the meaning of the establishment clause (which was to prevent the creation of a national church like the Church of England) and denying the free exercise clause (which preserves our right to worship as we want, privately and publicly). Both clauses were intended to safeguard religious liberty, not to circumscribe the practicing of religion. The Framers were seeking to guarantee a freedom of religion, not a freedom from it.
I respect all religions but adhere to one. I believe what Benjamin Rush -- a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a member of the presidential administrations of Adams, Jefferson and Madison -- wrote: "Such is my veneration for every religion that reveals the attributes of the Deity, or a future state of rewards and punishments, that I had rather see the opinions of Confucius or Mohammed inculcated upon our youth than see them grow up wholly devoid of a system of religious principles. But the religion I mean to recommend in this place is that of the New Testament."
And in so doing, I believe in the collection of beliefs stated almost poetically in the Apostles' Creed: "I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended to the grave. The third day, he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from where he will come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy Christian church; the fellowship of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and eternal life. Amen."
No Christmas hesitations here. My family celebrates Christ in Christmas; that 2,000 years ago, God sent a savior, named Jesus, born to die for the sins of mankind; that whoever believes in him will have eternal life, which I chose to do decades ago at a Billy Graham crusade in Los Angeles.
Friends, now is not the time in the history of our republic to be sheepish about our patriotism or religious convictions, as so many of our leaders are. Now is the time to demonstrate with boldness in what and whom we believe. That is the type of leader and president that we need in America's future.
We need more God-fearing men and women like those portrayed in "Courageous," the inspiring film about everyday heroes that also was expanded into a best-selling novel by my friend and prolific author Randy Alcorn (http://www.epm.org). In the novel, one character speaks for many of us and challenges the rest: "But there are some men who, regardless of the mistakes we've made in the past, regardless of what our fathers did not do for us, will give the strength of our arms and the rest of our days to loving God with all that we are and to teaching our children to do the same. And whenever possible, to love and mentor others who have no father in their lives but who desperately need help and direction. We are inviting any man whose heart is willing and courageous to join us."
Whatever your religious persuasion, don't be ashamed of it. And don't hesitate to let others know where you stand, respectfully speaking. Freedom of speech and religious liberty are your First Amendment rights. This is America. And that's one of the things that still make us a great nation. In God we trust.
(As a way to promote patriotism, courage and the continued support for our troops, my wife, Gena, and I are inviting everyone to join us Jan. 7 for the premiere of the documentary "Answering the Call," about my trips to Iraq during the war to encourage the troops. You can get tickets via http://www.KickStartKids.org. We hope to see you there!)