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Religious sign at MCB Hawaii again under fire

In its continuing battle to have a "God bless the military" sign at Marine Corps Base Hawaii taken down or moved to chapel grounds, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation says it will pursue federal litigation if it is not permitted to erect nine similar signs referencing other deities or no deity at all.

The commanding officer of the base ruled in October that the original sign would remain where it is.

"This sign will remain in its present location and not be altered in any way," Col. Sean Killeen wrote in a Oct. 9 letter to Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the MRFF.

Killeen did not, however, respond to the foundation's demand that, if the sign were not moved or taken down, its clients be allowed to erect additional signs next to it. In a letter today to Killeen, MRFF Legal Affairs Coordinator Tobanna Barker reiterated that demand.

"[Y]ou have remained suspiciously silent on the option to construct additional signs containing messages of support on behalf of MRFF's 117 clients under your command practicing a variety of religious faiths, as well as no faith," Barker wrote. "In the event you were hoping that remaining silent would make this issue disappear, we must disappoint you. We take constitutional violations very seriously and we aren't going anywhere. We demand that you timely respond, one way or the other, so we can either begin planning construction for sign placement or preparing for aggressive federal litigation."

The sign at the corner of E Street and 2nd Street on base, which reads "God bless the military, their families and the civilians who work with them," was erected not long after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, as service members were preparing to deploy, according to base officials.

Weinstein has said his clients demand the right to build and display signs that start with "Yehweh bless," "Allah bless," "Odin blesses," Vishnu blesses," "Goddess bless" and "There Is No God." He later added three more groups to his original list of six that want their own signs — the Church of Satan, the Baha'i faith and the "Jedi Church." The latter group's sign would begin "May the Force be with the Military ...."

"There is simply no compelling state interest that would justify allowing a public message of support from only one religious viewpoint — to the tyrannical exclusion of all others," Barker wrote in today's letter to Killeen. "If you claim that the sign is lawful because it gives support to the service members at MCB Hawaii, then messages of support are clearly allowed to be constructed on the base you command, sir. If a message referencing God is permitted, messages referencing Allah, Yahweh, Odin, Vishnu, Satan, and all other deities, as well as messages referencing no deity, must absolutely also be permitted."

The foundation has given the base a Feb. 17 deadline for a decision.

"If you choose to officially refuse MRFF's demand for equality for our Marine clients at MCB Hawaii, it will constitute the exhaustion of administrative remedies," Barker wrote. "Consequently, federal litigation will be the only remaining recourse for these Marines for whom you refuse to provide equal protection under the law."

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