Mike Huckabee ignores James Madison, tells Christians to avoid military until Obama is gone

Mike Huckabee is sorta, kinda, give-me-some-money-and-we’ll see running for president. And he was in New Hampshire this past weekend to test the waters on another bid for the White House.

On Friday, he threw some red meat to Republican primary voters when he said that young people thinking about joining the military should wait until 2017, when there occupant of the Oval Office is more friendly to Christians.

Said Huckabee, as quoted by the Huffington Post:

When you have this attitude that is more about promoting gay marriage and gay rights in the military than it is about being able to protect religious liberty for those people of faith, it’s going to be hard to find people that are truly devoted people of faith and Christian believers and Orthodox Jews and others…

…I’d wait a couple of years until we get a new commander in chief that will once again believe ‘one nation under God,’ and believe that people of faith should be a vital part of the process of not only governing this country, but defending this country.

He went on to express concern that President Obama “orders chaplains…not to counsel people on the issues of sexual morality.” This is especially rich coming from a man who has blamed military sexual assault — sexual immorality if there ever was such a thing — on the very fact that we allow gays and women in the military in the first place. Seemingly still sore from President Obama’s repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Huckabee’s call for military abstention is not only wildly unpatriotic — openly calling for would-be enlistees to refrain from signing up to defend our country — but also betrays a fundamental misunderstanding about religion’s role in our armed forces.

When President Bush began using our military as an agent of the One True Christian God™, it represented the exception, not the rule, in American foreign policy. Our military has always been a secular force for American interests at home and abroad. To go back to our Founders, as Huckabee is wont to do, James Madison was adamant that our nation’s public bodies remain neutral when it came to religion. As he wrote, on the subject of having chaplains in Congress:

Is the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom?

In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the U. S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion. The law appointing Chaplains establishes a religious worship for the national representatives, to be performed by Ministers of religion, elected by a majority of them; and these are to be paid out of the national taxes.

This prohibition of chaplains extended beyond the halls of Congreess and into the military. As Madison continued:

Better also to disarm in the same way, the precedent of Chaplainships for the army and navy, than erect them into a political authority in matters of religion. The object of this establishment is seducing; the motive to it is laudable. But is it not safer to adhere to a right principle, and trust to its consequences, than confide in the reasoning however specious in favor of a wrong one.

Madison felt that even if rabbis and ministers and priests and imams could do some good in providing guidance to soldiers, the precedent set by granting religion an official place in our nation’s military would be much worse. Regardless as to how badly Mike Huckabee would like to see his version of  his faith represented more forcefully in our nation’s armed forces, he doesn’t have a Constitutional leg to stand on, nor does he have an historical one.

The use of chaplains in by the United States government is a clear violation of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, and by extension has no place in the military — the fact that we still have them at all should be a bigger issue than their relative ability to preach. Soldiers are free to pray to whichever deity they please, or to none at all. It’s of no concern to President Obama, and should be of no concern of Mike Huckabee.

If Mike Huckabee has a problem with President Obama’s tone on religion in the military, he’s more than welcome to take it up with James Madison. Until then, he needs to tone down the unpatriotic blabber about holding out from military service on religious grounds, whatever his right-wing base would rather hear.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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