Religious freedom group outraged over Space Force Bible blessing at National Cathedral

By Sophie Lewis

/ CBS News

Trump launches U.S. Space Command

The Washington National Cathedral held a ceremony on Sunday to bless an "official" King James Bible to be used to swear in commanders of the newly-formed Space Force. Now, a religious freedom group is condemning the blessing as a violation of the separation of church and state.

"Today @WNCathedral blessed the official Bible for the new @SpaceForceDoD, which will be used to swear in all commanders of America's newest military branch," the cathedral's official account tweeted Sunday.

"We have been asked to dedicate a new Bible that will be used next week, when Major General John William Raymond will be sworn in as the first Chief of Space Operations," Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of Washington National Cathedral, said during the ceremony. "And, shortly thereafter, this Bible will be taken into space."

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A spokesperson for the cathedral confirmed that the Bible was used for the swearing-in of General Raymond on Tuesday morning. It was donated by the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.

January 12, 2020: 11am Sunday Worship Service at Washington National Cathedral by Washington National Cathedral on YouTube

"May this Bible guard and guide all those who purpose that the final frontier be a place where God will triumph over evil, where love will triumph over hate, and where life will triumph over death," said the Right Rev. Carl Wright, the Episcopal Church's bishop suffragan for the Armed Forces and Federal Ministries, as an Air Force chaplain held the Bible.

After the blessing, Hollerith welcomed visitors and described the cathedral as "a house of worship for all people."

Nevertheless, the ceremony immediately sparked outrage online for seeming to imply that following specific religious beliefs was necessary in a branch of the military. "So no Jews, Atheists, Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, Sikhs allowed in Space Force?" Princeton professor Steven Strauss tweeted at the church.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) issued a statement Monday after it said it received complaints from members of the military, veterans and civilians.

The foundation "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, dominance, triumphalism and exceptionalism which occurred at yesterday's 'blessing', at the Washington National Cathedral," the group's founder and president Mikey Weinstein said.

"For the record, military commanders are NOT ever 'sworn in' to their positions let alone with the usage of a Christian bible or other book of faith. And especially not in 2020!!" he continued.

Today @WNCathedral blessed the official Bible for the new @SpaceForceDoD, which will be used to swear in all commanders of America's newest military branch.

— Washington National Cathedral (@WNCathedral) January 12, 2020

The group said it is filing a formal complaint with Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. It will also assist in filing Inspector General and Equal Employment Opportunity complaints with the Department of Defense "to stop this train-wreck disaster in its stinking tracks from ever even leaving the station."

MRFF said that if the complaints fail to end the use of the Bible for military swearing-in ceremonies, it will bring its case to federal court in Northern Virginia. It argues the usage of a Christian Bible in this manner violates the First Amendment's separation of church and state and an additional article that states no federal employee is required to adhere to a particular religion in order to hold a job with the federal government.

The Department of Defense did not immediately reply to CBS News' request for comment.

The Space Force, the sixth branch of the U.S. military, was officially created in December when President Trump signed a new defense bill into law. It is dedicated to protecting U.S. national interests and security in space.

First published on January 14, 2020 / 1:22 PM

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