Columns Government & Politics Mark Silk: Spiritual Politics Opinion

The Religion in Space Force

Vice President Mike Pence address the final day of the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom at the State Department in Washington on July 26, 2018. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

If Vice President Mike Pence emcees the rollout of the new U.S. Space Force, you figure the sixth branch-to-be of the Armed Forces has got to have a major religious component. Sure, the five action items in  President Trump’s Order to the Defense Department confine themselves to national security and “warfighting,” but doesn’t the President himself declare that “space is integral to our American way of life”?

Going forward I expect that, alongside the proposed “unified combatant command (UCC),” the new branch will include what I’m going to call a Program to Enforce and Advance Religious Liberty in Space (PEARLS). And just as the UCC will absorb the relevant extraterrestrial activities of the other military branches, so PEARLS will necessarily incorporate the work of other federal agencies.

You’ve doubtless heard of the Religious Liberty Task Force (RLTF), created a couple of weeks ago by Attorney General Jeff (“scared stiff and Missing in action“) Sessions to ensure that nothing done by the Justice Department impinges on Americans’ exercise of faith. As Sessions put it, “The Constitution’s protections don’t end at the parish parking lot nor can our freedoms be confined to our basements.”

PEARLS will require an RLTF of its own. The Constitution’s protections don’t end at the ozone layer nor can our freedoms be confined to the sublunary sphere. PEARLS will have attorneys on the case.

Back in May, in a belated continuation of the faith-based offices of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, President Trump established a Faith and Opportunity Initiative “to assist faith-based and other organizations in their efforts to strengthen the institutions of civil society and American families and communities.”

In line with this Initiative, PEARLS will need a Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiative to assist faith-based and other organizations in their efforts to, well, explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where no one has gone before. Just don’t call it evangelizing.

Twenty years ago, Congress passed and President Clinton signed into law the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) “to promote greater religious freedom in countries which engage in or tolerate violations of religious freedom, and to advocate on the behalf of individuals persecuted for their religious beliefs and activities in foreign countries.” As Pence put it at last month’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, religious freedom is the “first freedom of everyone in the world.”

That law will have to be amended as the Universal Religious Freedom Act (URFA), to enable the Space Force to extend our promotion of religious freedom. Even as IRFA instituted an Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom within the State Department, so under URFA there will be a PEARLS official  charged with religious oversight of the Universe. PEARLS will likewise be charged with reporting on violations of religious freedom on any planets where that may be occurring.

The opportunities will be limitless.

About the author

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service

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