RUNYAN: Is Biden’s Hostility To Religion Tanking Military Recruitment?

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Danielle Runyan Contributor
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If the history and tradition of the United States of America teach us anything, it’s that Veterans are one of our most sacred national treasures. Without those who risked and too often sacrificed their lives in the name of freedom, America would be nothing but a fleeting notion in the minds of our Founding Fathers. But thankfully, and God willingly, America is the land of the free because of the brave.

Yet, in recent times, dedicated service to our country has largely become an afterthought. While a recent article cites inadequate pay and healthcare and poorly maintained base housing as the top reasons young Americans are opting for civilian life, perhaps our top brass must also consider that over 70% of service members identify as religious. At a time when recruiting goals are hardly being met by most branches of our military, our government’s recent public displays of disdain for servicemen of faith and religion, generally, cannot be discounted.

Rather than celebrating the diverse expressive activities that make America the greatest nation in the history of nations, the current Administration is intent on promoting its narrowly focused political agenda that has a consistent track record of violating religious citizens’ U.S. Constitutional and statutory rights. Most recently, the largest billboard for this agenda has been the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

In Sept. 2022, in the wake of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the VA illegally implemented a rule suddenly permitting abortions at VA hospitals—an unprecedented policy that failed to provide religious medical providers with the option to receive an accommodation from performing such procedures. But thankfully, through First Liberty’s efforts in Carter v. Dep’t of the VA, a religious accommodation process that accounts for objections pursuant to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and Title VII now exists for all VA providers nationwide.

More recently, in April of 2023, a Latin cross incorporating emblems of the military branches displayed in a public waiting area of an Austin, Texas Veterans’ Affairs clinic was removed on the premise that it allegedly violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. However,  as American Legion v. American Humanist Association makes clear, such a claim is farcical. In the 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court stated that “the plaintiff claiming an unconstitutional establishment of religion must demonstrate that he was actually coerced by government conduct that shares the characteristics of an establishment as understood at the founding,” and that the Bladensburg Cross is “constitutional even though the cross has religious significance.

While the VA seems fine with canceling religious symbolism, in early June, many were left speechless when the Pride Flag replaced the American Flag at VA facilities and cemeteries, in violation of the VA’s own policy on flag displays, which does not allow flags promoting politics. Again, the VA could take a lesson from the Supreme Court who said in the 2022 case, Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, “learning how to tolerate diverse expressive activities has always been part of learning how to live in a pluralistic society.”

The current administration is failing to accept that message.

Instead, the Executive Branch is taking every opportunity to ensure that religious Americans, and specifically religious servicemembers and Veterans, know their place in the political pecking order. Indeed, the administration has much to learn from Justice Kagan, who noted in her concurrence in American Legion: “But I find much to admire in this section of the opinion—particularly, its emphasis on whether longstanding monuments, symbols, and practices reflect ‘respect and tolerance for differing views, an honest endeavor to achieve inclusivity and nondiscrimination, and a recognition of the important role that religion plays in the lives of many Americans.’ Here, as elsewhere, the opinion shows sensitivity to and respect for this Nation’s pluralism, and the values of neutrality and inclusion that the First Amendment demands.”

Perhaps young Americans are reluctant to answer our nation’s call because they are witness to our Executive Branch’s failure to account for the religious in its concept of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. While adequate pay and healthcare and properly maintained base housing are reasonable considerations when deciding whether to join the military, how our Executive Branch demonstrates respect for religious liberty must certainly be added to the list.

Danielle Runyon is Senior Counsel in the Military Practice Group at First Liberty Institute a non-profit law firm dedicated to defending religious freedom for all. Read more at FirstLiberty.org.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.