Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Did White House Medal of Honor Ceremony Conform To Air Force Guidelines On Chaplains' Prayers?

The White House ceremony yesterday (video and transcript of President's remarks) awarding the Medal of Honor posthumously to Chief Master Sergeant Richard L. Etchberger began with an invocation by Air Force Deputy Chief of Chaplains, Brigadier General David H. Cyr.  Cyr ended his invocation with the words: "in Your holy and wonderous name we pray."  The President thanked Cyr for his "wonderful invocation."  Cyr's closing benediction at the ceremony did not end with similar references, but only with "Amen and Amen."  All of this is worthy of remarking only because of the widely publicized controversy in 2006 over whether Christian Air Force chaplains could invoke Jesus' name in public prayers at military ceremonies. (See prior posting). Presumably the phrase "in Your holy name" is equivalent to invoking Jesus' name.  Revised Interim Air Force Guidelines issued in 2006 (full text) provide: "non-denominational, inclusive prayer or a moment of silence may be appropriate for military ceremonies or event of special importance when its primary purpose is not the advancement of religious beliefs." 

A House-Senate Conference Report on the Defense Authorization Act in 2006 contained a statement by the conferees (but not as part of the law) directing the Secretary of the Air Force to rescind the 2006 Interim Guidelines. The conferees also directed the Air Force to reinstate Policy Directive 52-1, but that directive does not deal with the issue of sectarian prayer at public ceremonies. To further complicate the matter, as reported by God and Country blog, the Air Force reprinted a summary of the 2006 Guidelines in a 2007 edition of Airman's Roll Call-- suggesting that the Interim Guidelines are still in force. Presumably Chaplain Cyr's closing in his benediction during the White House ceremony is not "non-denominational." Interestingly, the coverage of the ceremony on the White House website includes a video of the entire ceremony including Chaplain Cyr's invocation and benediction, but the printed transcript that accompanies it includes only the President's remarks.