Story and photo by Spc. Ian Boudreau/Turrett
FORT KNOX, Ky. (TRADOC News Service, Aug. 19, 2005) – Just about every Soldier has, at some point in his or her career, had the opportunity to receive a book of scripture, usually from a representative at a Military Entrance Processing Station or from a chaplain in basic training.
But a recently published edition of Christian scripture has drawn fire for possibly violating the First Amendment Establishment Clause, which bars the government – including the military – from endorsing a specific religion.
The publications, called “The Soldier’s Bible” and “The Soldier’s New Testament,” are published by Holman Bible Publishers in Nashville, Tenn., which is owned by the Southern Baptist Convention, headquartered in Nashville.
Each contains gilt-edged pages bound in attractive faux-leather and bears a gold-embossed Department of the Army emblem on the front cover.
“That’s a problem,” wrote National Public Radio On-line’s Jeff Brady in a July article titled “‘The Soldier’s Bible’ draws fire.”
Brady wrote that the DA emblems on the Bibles – which are also published in editions for the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard – make the Bibles and New Testaments appear as official government publications.
Use of the Army’s emblem is controlled by the Army Institute of Heraldry, and permission for use is granted by Stanley Haas, chief of the institute’s Technical and Production Division.
Haas told NPR that permission to use the emblem wouldn’t normally be granted for anything religious. But Haas is thanked by name in the acknowledgements section of each copy of the scriptures.
A disclaimer, set in small type on the third page at the front, reads, “The seal of the Army is used by permission but in no way carries the endorsement of this product by the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense or the government of the United States.”
“Proper permission was granted to use the respective seals of each branch of service,” said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Kenneth Beale, the chief of Fort Knox’s U.S. Army Recruiting Command Chaplain Recruiting Branch.
However, a disclaimer is not a sure-fire means to avoid First Amendment litigation.
“The problem with it is there is no clearly defined test or mark,” explained Ronald Eades, a professor and First Amendment expert on the staff of the University of Louisville School of Law.
“Disclaimers help, but they’re not a perfect solution,” he said.
“During Desert Storm, there were paperback Bibles with the desert BDU (pattern), and (they) had all four branches’ seals printed on the front,” Beale said. “So this is not the first, and I trust it won’t be the last, (such) demonstration of support of our troops.’’
Such support has been taking place in the U.S. military for a long time.
“There is a long tradition of chaplains distributing scriptures of a variety to Soldiers,” said Fort Knox staff chaplain Col. Hugh Dukes, who worked as the director of personnel for the chaplain corps for more than four years before coming to Knox.
Dukes explained that while he served as a unit chaplain, he would have on hand books of scripture for Protestants, Catholics, Mormons, Jews and Muslims alike, and would make them available to the Soldiers in his unit before a deployment or exercise.
Beale pointed out that the Holman Press Soldier’s Bibles aren’t stocked by the Army, and are instead purchased by or donated to individual chaplains and Soldiers.
“This is a purchasable item,” Beale said. “It is not out there on DefenseLink.”
He said that chaplains are allowed to purchase devotional material with non-appropriated funds, such as money taken up in service collections.
“I’ve heard that many chaplains have been able to get these merely for the asking from the publisher to be able to distribute. This is not ... purchased and stockpiled like the Army does pens,” he explained.
Beale said it’s not uncommon for publishers to make religious-themed material available upon request to military personnel, and cited Presbyterian author D. James Kennedy’s book, “Why I Believe,” which is published in an armed-forces edition along with Kennedy’s DVD, “Who is this Jesus?”
Eades pointed out the U. S. Supreme Court’s recent split decision regarding displays of the Ten Commandments, OKing a display in Texas and nixing another in Kentucky.
“People want a clear answer on this, but the problem is the Supreme Court sees it in terms of factors they can analyze,” Eades said. “I can see why some people might say this looks like establishment (of government-endorsed religion).”
“Different people get upset about different things, or ask questions about different sorts of things,” Dukes said, referring to concerns that the Soldier’s Bible might violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. “That (the Soldier’s Bible) has a seal doesn’t bother me, whether it’s the Army, the Navy or the Air Force... so long as it’s properly licensed and the disclaimers are there to say that it’s not used without permission. It’s not an issue of faith.”
Eades said it isn’t quite that simple.
“Often, the only way you really know is after litigation has been carried out,” he said.
Dukes, whose work as personnel director for the Army’s chaplain corps made him familiar with the First Amendment argument, said, “The chaplaincy has been established based on free exercise – that part of the First Amendment. So that’s the foundation. The balance to that is the Establishment Clause.”
Dukes added that chaplains have to be aware that showing favoritism toward a particular religion would constitute establishment, and that chaplains are tasked with providing for their Soldiers as well as they can under those parameters.
Favoring one over another, he said, would be just as bad as not providing for free exercise of religion.
“As long as we live in the tension of providing free exercise and avoiding establishment, we’re going to have that debate,” Dukes said. “And we ought to. There ought to be a tension that we continue to work in as faithfully as we can, both to the needs of our Soldiers and the limits of our Constitution.”
The Bible, Beale said, is “among the arsenal of chaplains’ armament.”
“We don’t carry bullets,” he said. “We carry Bibles.”