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My name is CPT Justin M. Lienhard. I served as the platoon leader for both the 10th Mountain Division, 1/87IN, A CO, 1st Platoon, and for the 75th Ranger Regiment, 3D Battalion, B Co, 3D Platoon. I took part in three combat deployments: the first in Hawijah, Iraq; the second in Baghdad, Iraq; and the third predominantly in the Arghandab Valley and Panjaway District of southern Afghanistan. I believe in our constitution and in the strict separation of church and state. I am absolutely opposed to any public funds being used to support any religious institutions or beliefs. The Bladensburg crossat the heart of the ongoing Supreme Court battle is an example of exactly that, and it doesn’t represent my service, nor the service of the many people I worked alongside.
Most of the enemy fighters I encountered throughout my service were avowed Muslims. I am an avowed Christian. I know that Jesus is my lord savior. However, I was there neither on behalf of my God nor to battle against theirs. Far from being there to impose our own religion on foreign country, we were there to battle the resurgence of a government that sought to re-impose upon the citizens of that nation the strict adherence to the fanatical interpretation of a single religion.
When I entered service, the military asked me about my faith, and then printed it clearly on my dog tags. This was not done to identify me for rapid advancement up the ranks if my God happened to be the one favored by the state, nor was it done to limit my rights and opportunities to serve within the military if my God was ill-favored. Dog tags serve to identify the soldier, and religion is recorded upon those tags so that proper services fitting with their beliefs may be rendered in the event that they sacrifice their lives for the service of this nation and what it stands for.
If a Catholic soldier lays dying, every effort is made to provide that soldier with a priest in their last moments, just as a rabbi is sought to console a Jew. When a soldier is buried in Arlington, we place a stone above their head that honors their memory with the symbol of their choice, whether representing their God or none at all.
When we engage the enemies of this great nation, we do so as the military of the United States of America, fighting on behalf of every citizen, regardless of creed. We do not march as a Christian army and we do not fight for a Christian God, nor a Christian citizenry, nor for that matter, a Christian nation. We fight in an army that specifically inquires about its soliders’ faiths because it does not assume the people dying to defend this nation are Christian. When one views the cross that claims to memorialize and honor the believers and non-believers alike in that light, it seems antithetical to the ideals for which those same soldiers fought.
I find the best way to determine the moral and fair answer to a complex problem is to examine the issue by changing the identifiers but keeping the facts intact.
What if you grew up in a country that cherished individual freedom, and one of those freedoms was to worship the God of your choice or to believe in nothing at all beyond the tangible and logical? What if you loved that country so much that you gave your life to defend those freedoms? What if that country’s predominant religion was not your own? And what if they honored your sacrifice by erecting and/or preserving a statue that honored a God you did not believe in?
Not only would that dishonor the patriot who gave his life for that country, it would dishonor the citizens who pay the taxes to fund that monument. More importantly, it would undermine the very freedom for which he gave his life.
This isn’t about which religion is true. I, like many of you, believe that all religions other than my own are false. I also believe in religious freedom, which is what the Supreme Court is preparing to consider in the coming days. True freedom is uncomfortable. To be truly free we must step outside our own beliefs. The religion of the majority cannot be encouraged, promoted, or endorsed using non-voluntary communal funds.
We live in a time when Christianity is viewed as the “civilized” religion, and Christians with vastly different doctrines and beliefs espouse tolerance and comradery with one another. It has not always been so and it is naive to believe that it will continue to be so. There have been times not far beyond the short horizons of our memories when Protestants banded together with Muslims against Catholics, when Mormons were persecuted to the fringes of our continent, when Jews were denied entrance during their hour of need because of their faith, when we slaughtered one another by the millions over trivial differences in doctrine.
Religion becomes dangerous when it becomes the tool of a government. Therefore, government must be prevented from endorsing, funding or promoting any and all religion, even my own. I want my religion separated from my government, not just to protect the government, but to protect my religion. Government is the well-meaning tool of a fallen world. My belief in my lord savior does not need tax-payer-funded monuments and it doesn’t want them either. God does not have a nation. He does not honor the dead of one nation, he only mourns the evil that led to such senseless slaughter for pride, power and wealth.
When I die I want my family to place a cross above my human remains. I want my country to place a flag. Government shall not and must not be allowed to honor my faith. That is the only way that the Jew, the Muslim, and the atheist, all of whom gave their lives for my freedom, can be honored by my nation. There is no other way.