By Bill Sulzman, Colorado Springs
Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1, 67 S.Ct. 504, 91 L.Ed. 711 (1947).
“The `establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance.” ( 330 U.S. at 15-16, 67 S.Ct. at 511-512).
This case is one of many which relate to the question of the separation of church and state as regards “setting up a church”. such as the one on Air Force Academy (AFA) grounds.
In general terms. the military chaplaincy was in existence before there was a U.S. Constitution and thus was more or less grandfathered in and not directly addressed in the Bill of Rights.
At that time the fighting of war on land and sea was far different from what it is today and there was no ability at all to conduct war from the air or from outer space or cyber space. Combatants whether on land or sea were close to the action. Needless to say it is far different today in the era of standoff weapons.
The four year closure of the AFA Chapel beginning on January 1, 2019. provides some time to consider the constitutionality of this $68 million government expenditure. The first step in the work process, removing all the furnishings, would be the same whether the closure is to be permanent or temporary.. So there is time to deliberate.
For the sake of this argument I am setting aside the question of whether the military chaplaincy as currently structured is constitutional. I would argue that it is not, but that is a discussion for another day.
The narrow focus of this discussion is the building itself. I have seen a lot of the history of the chapel. It was completed in 1962 while I was stationed at Fort Carson. You could see it in the distance. I first visited the Chapel in 1971 and immediately wondered how it could be legal for the government to build and operate such a church.
Over many decades I have joined others in challenging the legitimacy of the chapel, sometimes ending up in court.
Alas now there is a clean slate and we can fully explore all the arguments about whether it is constitutional for the government to build and operate what amounts to a national religious shrine or “icon” as it is often called. The AFA has made clear that there is no problem addressing the religious rights of cadets over the course of the next four years. They have a program set up to deal with that. So that argument for reopening the chapel is mute.
We need a forum for this debate. Who will step forward to set it up?