An anti-religion group is seeking to ban U.S. Air Force members from using their “duty day” to volunteer for the Salvation Army’s food distribution efforts over Christmas.
The Christian Salvation Army, whose unofficial motto is “doing the most good,” serves communities through a wide variety of programs such as disaster relief, fighting human trafficking, combatting addiction, and serving veterans in need.
One would think such a venerable organization would be a no-brainer for which military service members can volunteer their time, but the Military Religious Freedom Foundation has proved that no good deed goes unpunished. The group sent a letter to the Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota demanding it stop its service members from volunteering.
The anti-religious group believes, wrongly, that simply allowing active-duty airmen to volunteer their time to feed the hungry with the Salvation Army is a violation of the Constitution. Bah humbug, indeed.
America’s military has a proud history of voluntary teamwork with community service organizations, whether it’s building houses with Habitat for Humanity, donating blood with the American Red Cross, or mentoring youth with Big Brothers Big Sisters. Military bases present a target-rich environment for those seeking volunteers — after all, service members tend to be rather service-oriented.
It would be a real shame to deny any organization the opportunity to seek volunteers purely because of that organization’s Christian identity and character. Not only is it a shame; it’s wrong, and it may even be unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause requires government neutrality towards religion. Neutrality not only means the government cannot favor a particular religion, but the government likewise may not demonstrate hostility against religion either.
Yet that is precisely what the MRFF demands. The MRFF is so blinded by its own anti-religious hostility that it is willing to punish those who would volunteer their time to help provide services for those in need.
As Christmas approaches, the Air Force has the opportunity to send the right message here. One of the Air Force core values is “service before self.” Allowing airmen to voluntarily participate in community service organizations such as the Salvation Army sends the message that the Air Force takes its core value seriously. And at a time when recruiting and retention have become real challenges, the sort of goodwill engendered by allowing community service is priceless.
Not only that, there’s always the added benefit of knowing that America’s Air Force remains committed to defending the Constitution by avoiding the kind of impermissible religious hostility the MRFF seeks. And that is the gift that keeps on giving.
Michael Berry is deputy general counsel and director of military affairs for First Liberty Institute, a group dedicated to defending religious liberty. The group is defending the Air Force base at the center of this case, and the airmen who volunteered for the Salvation Army’s Christmas event.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller