Since 1958, the Young Marines have helped countless young men and women learn to live healthy, responsible, and principled lives. Molded after the U.S. Marine Corps, the Young Marines are an independent organization designed to instill such positive traits as teamwork, loyalty, hard work, and leadership. The Young Marines have been specifically commended by the U.S. Congress, and their Drug Demand Reduction Program was awarded the last year’s Annual Fulcrum Shield Award for Excellence in Youth Anti-Drug Programs by the Department of Defense.
But now at least one chapter of the Young Marines in Bossier Parish, Louisiana has been defunded by the Justice Department’s Office of Civil Rights. The decision to remove $30,000 in funding came after the chapter’s sponsor, Sheriff Julian Whittington, refused to sign a pledge forbidding voluntary prayer or any mention of God at their meetings.
The prayers at meetings had been completely voluntary and led by students, not organizational leaders. But despite being entirely voluntary, the Department of Justice balked at the notion of the nondenominational prayer, as well as references to God and church in the Young Marines creed and oath. One of the tenets of the Young Marines creed is to “Keep myself clean in mind by attending the church of my faith.” The Young Marine Obligation is as follows:
“From this day forward, I sincerely promise, I will set an example for all other youth to follow and I shall never do anything that would bring disgrace or dishonor upon God, my Country and its flag, my parents, myself or the Young Marines. These I will honor and respect in a manner that will reflect credit upon them and myself. Semper Fidelis.”
Not exactly the Nicene Creed.
The Department of Justice guidelines prohibit “funding of inherently religious activities, such as prayer, religious instruction and proselytization.” If the Department of Justice believes the rather tame references to God in the Young Marines’ sayings are inappropriate, then so are dozens of well-established government practices. “In God We Trust” is written on our coins, and students are instructed to pledge “under God” in public schools. As Fox News’ Todd Starnes points out, the enlistment oath and commissioning oath of the actual Marines ends with “So help me God.” We say the same when swearing upon the Bible in a government court.
Under the strict guidelines the Department of Justice is using to scrub God from the Young Marines, the federal government is engaged in “proselytizing” and “inherently religious activities” virtually every day. But teaching at-risk kids to stay away from drugs is where they draw the line?
The Department of Justice was particularly worried about the prayers taking place in meetings. In order to receive any Department of Justice funding, the Department insist that the prayers remain “separate in time or location from DOJ-funded activities.” But to reiterate, the prayers are led by the children and are entirely voluntary. So if the children you’re mentoring start to pray, they must be asked to stop. If they want to continue to pray, the Department requires that the Sheriff tell them to do it somewhere else.
What sort of message will the Young Marines be sending if they teach children such virtues as loyalty, hard work, teamwork, and moral fortitude, but also silence any voluntary form of religious expression? And what message would be sent when the Sheriff is forced to explain to his pupils that the federal government demanded it? In its efforts to avoid looking like it is promoting religion, the federal government ends up unconstitutionally promoting irreligion.
Already, Louisiana lawmakers are coming to the defense of Sheriff Whittington and the Young Marines. Representative John Fleming (R-LA) stated, “There is a very wide effort coming out of the administration that seeks to stamp out freedom of expressions – particularly religion and especially freedom of Christian expression.” Senator John Vitter (R-LA) also implied that the Young Marine decision fit a general pattern within the Obama administration, claiming “It is deplorable that the administration is discriminating against this laudable program, but unfortunately it’s not surprising.” But it isn’t just Republicans who are upset; a resolution supporting the Young Marines unanimously passed the Louisiana State Senate.
Hopefully, the Department of Justice will heed these voices, see the error of its ways, and swiftly reinstate funding. Their decision hurt not just religious dialogue in America, but also the young men and women Young Marines was founded to support.