On Saturday, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee declared that young Christians considering military service should “wait a couple of years until we get a new commander-in-chief that will once again believe ‘one nation under God,’ and believe that people of faith should be a vital part of the process of not only governing this country, but defending this country.”
To be clear, this is a call for an indefinite, conditional abstention from service. Is there any guarantee that the next president will meet Mr. Huckabee’s conditions? The Democratic frontrunner certainly doesn’t.
Yes, it is undoubtedly true — as Mr. Huckabee notes — that religious liberty in the military is under threat. He made his remarks in response to this report, from the Washington Times, outlining recent incidents where chaplains allegedly faced discipline for their religious viewpoint.
Fearful of negative mainstream-media coverage — critics of Christians in the military, like the Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s Mikey Weinstein, enjoy extraordinary media access — and responding to priorities set from the top, the military is reacting badly to complaints against orthodox chaplains. In fact, as stories of punitive actions against outspoken Christians multiply, it’s understandable that activists are reporting anecdotal evidence of parents and potential recruits balking at the negative climate.
In reality, however the best way to guarantee increasing Christian isolation and diminished religious liberty is to flee the field, to leave the military to its more secular members. If Christianity becomes an aberration, rather than a mainstream part of military life, commanders will have little practical incentive to accommodate religious expression — particularly in the face of opposition.
But there’s a deeper reason why young Americans shouldn’t heed Mr. Huckabee’s advice: Leaving the defense of the nation and its liberties to secular citizens would constitute a profound moral failing, an abdication of faithful Americans’ duties as citizens. The blessings of American liberty — even when that liberty is under attack — are purchased for a price in blood that should and must be borne by every American community, including the community of faith.
Barack Obama is not America’s only inadequate commander-in-chief. Jimmy Carter, after all, brought the armed forces to the brink of ruin, and the presumptive presidential frontrunner — Hillary Clinton — shows no indication that she’ll change any of President Obama’s worst military policies.
Yet the nation still needs a defense. There is no guarantee that present conditions — where our efforts in the Middle East are mainly confined to largely ineffective aerial holding actions — will hold for even one more day. In an increasingly unstable world, the military may soon need “all hands on deck” no matter the identity of the commander-in-chief. It would be a disgrace, for example, if America’s Christians were underrepresented in a fight against the jihadists who are the world’s worst persecutors of the Christian faith.
Ironically enough, in tying military service to national policies and politics, Mr. Huckabee is echoing the sentiments of another Arkansas governor — Bill Clinton — who as a young man wrote, “I am in great sympathy with those who are not willing to fight, kill, and maybe die for their country, that is, the particular policy of a particular government, right or wrong.”
When I served in Iraq, I served with men who laid their lives on the line despite fervently believing the war was a mistake and that their commander-in-chief was corrupt — that he lied to launch the war. I disagreed with them on both counts, but I had deep respect for their commitment to the mission and to their brothers in arms despite their very deep political misgivings.
It is right for Mr. Huckabee to use his platform to protect religious liberty in the military. It is wrong for him to seek to weaken its ranks to accomplish that objective.
— David French is a staff writer for National Review and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.