“Onward, Christian Soldiers” is more than a 19th-century hymn.
When Sabine Baring-Gould wrote this call to action for followers of Christ, little did he know the words would play out at a U.S. military installation in Germany.
Over the weekend, Air Force Lt. Col. David McGraw apologized to the residents and fellow servicemen and women of Kelley Barracks at U. S. Army Garrison Stuttgart.
He didn’t say he was sorry because he broke the law, blared music too loudly or piled trash up on the sidewalks.
He issued an apology because he conducted Sunday worship services from his balcony while the world is in lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. He wanted to offer ways for him and his neighbors to pray and worship together while secluded in their homes.
Most churches are prohibited from gathering because of social distancing guidelines, so McGraw did what he thought was appropriate and took matters into his own hands.
For eight weeks, he led services from his apartment balcony overlooking a playground, according to The Christian Post.
The report went on to describe how the Military Religious Freedom Foundation became involved through complaints and wrote a letter asking the commander of the base to discipline the balcony preacher for spreading the Word of God.
“His illicit actions in unconstitutionally proselytizing his particularly favored version of the Christian faith to an ABSOLUTELY CAPTIVE AUDIENCE at Kelley barracks on USAG Stuttgart viciously violate (1) the No Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution; (2) all applicable construing Federal caselaw; (3) a plethora of DoD and USAF Directives, Instructions, and Regulations; (4) the Core Values of the United States Army and Air Force; as well as, (5) the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ),” MRFF founder Michael Weinstein said in the letter.
He went on to say McGraw’s preaching was “literally ripping asunder the good order, morale, discipline, and unit cohesion of those DoD personnel under your command at USAG Stuttgart!”
The MRFF describes itself as an organization that champions the separation of church and state.
In other words, it wants to squash the civil liberties of Christians in the military.
McGraw invited people to attend by leaving copies of song lyrics on the doorsteps of residents, and the service attendance was growing larger each week.
Obviously, it was well-received.
People tend to be attracted to messages of encouragement.
In this time of crisis, people needed someone to step up to offer a calming solution.
McGraw did not violate any laws. In fact, his First Amendment rights might be getting trampled on in this situation.
The Constitution is clear: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
The Founding Fathers did not specify or limit speech to the balcony of a barrack. Just because you’re irritated about what someone has to say doesn’t give you the right to take away their religious freedoms. McGraw is free to preach the gospel whenever he wants, and the historic document upholds that right.
He did not hold anyone hostage and force them to listen.
When I attended college, there was a man who stood on the corner and preached his version of the Gospel. His voice was loud, and students hurled harsh words as they laughed and mocked him. But he was practicing his freedom of speech.
Everyone is inconvenienced during the pandemic. There must be some give and take.
If the worst thing there is to complain about is someone preaching about the salvation of Jesus Christ for 30 minutes a week, then hunker down and listen. The message of peace and love will never become outdated.
McGraw said he did not wish to offend anyone and is willing to move the worship service to another location.
He asked for forgiveness and another chance. He showed character and willingness to cooperate.
Although he is on foreign soil, he is an American officer protecting our way of life, our freedom and our Constitution.
He needs to know that America has his back in this time of turmoil and confusion.
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