October 2010 Church & State | People & Events

The U.S. Navy should end its policy of broadcasting nightly prayers on board ships, a coalition of organizations has urged.

In a Sept. 9 letter to Ray Mabus, secretary of the Navy, Americans United and other groups assert that the prayer policy is coercive and subjects some personnel to unwanted worship.

The letter, spearheaded by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, takes aim at prayers aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln but notes that the practice appears to be widespread. On the Abraham Lincoln, the letter notes, a chaplain or designee announces the prayers, which are nearly always in the Christian tradition and are often accompanied by Bible verses from the New Testament.

The prayers are broadcast to all areas of the ship, and all televisions are shut off during the service.

The groups assert that the prayer policy violates the constitutional rights of some sailors.

“Sailors on board the ship have no feasible way of avoiding the Navy-sponsored prayer,” reads the letter. “Service members are not able to turn off the intercom because to do so would violate orders and create a safety risk. The prayers are a daily occurrence and permeate all areas of the ship.

“These officially sanctioned prayers,” the letter continues, “compel service members of varying beliefs and non-belief to listen to and participate in religious exercises at the behest of Capt. John Alexander, the ship’s Commanding Officer. They should not be compelled to participate in or show obeisance to official prayers while serving our country.”

Aside from Americans United, groups joining the Freedom From Religion Foundation in signing the letter include: Military Religious Freedom Foundation, Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers, Center for Inquiry, American Humanist Association and American Atheists. In addition, Commander Jesse Kingg, who retired from the Navy after 21 years of service, also endorsed the missive.

In other news about the military:

• Army officials are investigating an incident at Fort Eustis in Virginia concerning an appearance by a Christian rock band. Several soldiers complained that they were pressured to attend a concert by BarlowGirl as part of Maj. Gen. James E. Chambers’ “Spiritual Fitness Concert Series.”

According to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, soldiers who balked at attending the event were sent back to their barracks and told to do maintenance chores.