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September 17, 2022 at 3:25 a.m.

Forced from military

The very first right mentioned in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution deals with the free exercise of religion. Neither in that First Amendment or elsewhere in that document is it stated or otherwise implied that members of our armed forces give up this precious right upon entering the military. Acknowledging that the military can do what is in the "best interests" of the service, it cannot and should not deprive service members from exercising their religious beliefs. Yet it seems the Biden administration is doing just that.

Men and women are being forced out of the military, including the service academies, because of their belief that Executive Order 14043, and the subsequent mandate from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin requiring them to be vaccinated for covid, violates their free exercise of religion.

I believe one's religious beliefs and practices do not need and should not be counseled by either the federal government or the military. Those beliefs and practices are of a personal nature. A February CNN report stated that of 16,000 religious-exemption requests, the service branches had only approved 15; neither the Navy or the Army had approved any requests. The Army finally approved one request in March, and, according to U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), as of June the Air Force had approved 118 out of 13,494 total requests. In June three Air Force Academy cadets were not allowed to walk at graduation and denied commissions after their religious exemption waivers were denied; one cadet had already resigned. By Aug. 24, the Navy had discharged 1,533 who had requested a religious exemption.

What is being missed in all of this is that men and women who have honorably served our country, some for 20 years or longer, are being faced with the potential loss of income, housing, medical care, education and retirement benefits because they have chosen to exercise their First Amendment right of the free exercise of religion.


Little Rock

On loan forgiveness

Bill Keith of Little Rock asked for reasons why student loans should be paid by taxpayers.

Let me count the reasons: 1. Tuition skyrocketed when graduates could no longer resolve student costs through bankruptcy. 2. Tuition went up when banks offered money to cover tuition because it could not be forgiven through bankruptcy. 3. Corporations offered employment contingent on working at the rate they were willing to pay.

I paid my student loans back because they were federally financed at less than 4 percent per year.


Hot Springs

Of religious freedom

An original print of the U.S. Constitution is on display at Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville as part of its excellent "We the People" exhibit. This aptly named exhibit reminds us that when the founders signed our Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787 (exactly 235 years ago today), they removed power from kings and priests and instead bestowed it upon "We the People."

Our founders, while far from perfect, were the Enlightenment thinkers of their era. In line with "No taxation without representation," they believed that compelling citizens to support a faith they did not follow violated their liberty.

Thus they created the world's first secular constitution, prohibiting states and the federal government from requiring any kind of religious test for public office. However, as I viewed this document, I was also reminded that Article 19, Section 1 of the Arkansas Constitution is titled "Atheists disqualified from holding office or testifying as witness."

While this is not enforced, it runs contrary to the founding principles of our nation and betrays our growing non-religious population--nearly one-third of Americans now identifying as having "no religion." In Benton County, 22 percent identify as religiously unaffiliated, according to PRRI Research.

I am proud to count myself as one of the more than 75 million secular Americans who are not religious. I'm also proud to be a local representative of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, which has been fighting to protect our cherished separation of church and state.

This Constitution Day, Arkansas must commit to changing its unconstitutional state Constitution. Because there is no freedom of religion without a government that is free from religion.



Print Headline: Letters


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