Space Force Bible blessing at National Cathedral sparks outrage

The Rev. Randolph Hollerith, dean of the Washington National Cathedral (from left); the Rt. Rev. Carl Wright, the Episcopal Church's bishop suffragan for the armed forces; and Maj. Gen. Steven Schaick, the Air Force chief of chaplains, participate in the blessing of a Bible for swearing in U.S. Space Force officials.
The Rev. Randolph Hollerith, dean of the Washington National Cathedral (from left); the Rev. Carl Wright, the Episcopal Church's bishop suffragan for the armed forces; and Maj. Gen. Steven Schaick, the Air Force chief of chaplains, participate in the blessing of a Bible for swearing in U.S. Space Force officials.
Danielle E. Thomas | Washington National Cathedral

Updated at 6:40 p.m. ET

The blessing of what's being called "the official Bible for the new U.S. Space Force" at the Washington National Cathedral on Sunday is drawing an outpouring of criticism on social media and condemnation from a prominent religious freedom advocacy group.

"The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) condemns, in as full-throated a manner as is humanly possible, the shocking and repulsive display of only the most vile, exclusivist, fundamentalist Christian supremacy," MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein wrote in a statement denouncing the Bible blessing. "The utilization of a Christian bible to 'swear in' commanders of the new Space Force or any other [Department of Defense] branch at ANY level is completely violative of the bedrock separation of church and state mandate of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution."

President Trump gives the pen used to sign a copy of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2020 to the U.S. Space Force's first chief of space operations, Gen. John Raymond, on Dec. 20.
President Trump gives the pen used to sign a copy of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2020 to the U.S. Space Force's first chief of space operations, Gen. John Raymond, on Dec. 20.
Kevin Wolf | AP

In a tweet on Sunday, the Washington National Cathedral posted a statement describing the Bible that was blessed during a morning service as a Space Force official Bible "which will be used to swear in all commanders of America's newest military branch."

"Gross," wrote one Twitter respondent identifying himself as United Church of Christ Rev. Seth Wispelwey of Tucson, Ariz.

"Um. We don't swear our military oaths on a Bible, or any text for that matter," writes Gidget, a self-described veteran, in another reply. "Stand at attention, right hand up. That's it."

At the National Cathedral ceremony, the U.S. Air Force chief of chaplains, Maj. Gen. Steven Schaick, stood in full dress uniform before the congregation holding a King James Bible donated by the Museum of the Bible, a private Washington, D.C., institution whose board chair is Hobby Lobby President Steve Green.

"Accept this Bible which we dedicate here today for the United States Space Force," intoned the Rev. Randolph Hollerith, dean of the National Cathedral, "that all may so diligently search your holy word and find in it the wisdom that leads to peace and salvation, through Jesus Christ our Lord, amen."

The blessing of the Bible also featured flattering words for President Trump, who strongly advocated for creating the Space Force, from the Episcopal Church's bishop suffragan for the armed forces.

"Almighty God, who set the planets in their courses and the stars in space," the Rev. Carl Wright implored, "look with favor, we pray you, upon the commander in chief, the 45th president of this great nation, who looked to the heavens and dared to dream of a safer future for all mankind."

Wright says the Bible will be entrusted to Gen. John Raymond, who last month assumed command of the U.S. Space Force.

The MRFF's Weinstein says he's lodging a formal complaint about the Bible blessing with Defense Secretary Mark Esper "to stop this train-wreck disaster in its stinking tracks from ever even leaving the station."

Weinstein says the "official Bible" of the U.S. Space Force violates the Balance of Free Exercise of Religion and Establishment Clause in Air Force Instruction 1-1, which states that leaders "must ensure their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed to be officially endorsing or disapproving of, or extending preferential treatment for any faith, belief, or absence of belief."

An Air Force spokesperson said in an emailed statement that while the Bible blessed at the National Cathedral will be used to swear in Raymond as chief of space operations, "there is no official religious or other sacred text, nor is there any requirement for a member to use any sacred or religious text, during swearing-in ceremonies."

Being sworn in with or without a Bible, writes Air Force press desk officer Lynn Kirby, "will remain a personal choice for each individual swearing in."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

(2020-01-12 23:00:00 -0600):

An earlier version of this story misspelled Maj. Gen. Steven Schaick's last name as Schaik.

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