The U.S. Navy has ordered a chat group gathered on a special website the military set up for families of service members to drop the word "Christian" from its title.
It also has changed the website's rules to ban all "religious discussions" because such speech "contradicts our purpose by creating unnecessary divisions among site members."
The issue was exposed by officials with Liberty Counsel, a public interest law firm that has written to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus demanding that the censorship on the NavyforMoms.com website be reversed.
"The prohibition of religious groups and religious speech on Navy for Moms by the United States Navy is unconstitutional," said the letter dispatched also to the private company engaged by the Navy to operate the site.
simply may not create a forum and then proclaim religious views are not welcome as that is blatant viewpoint discrimination, absolutely prohibited by the First Amendment. Even if the restrictions were evaluated as content restrictions, the United Sates Navy could not withstand the strict scrutiny required by the Supreme Court for analyzing the restrictions," the letter, signed by attorney David Corry on behalf of Liberty Counsel, said.
"The use of the name 'Christian' cannot violate the Establishment Clause since it is purely private, occurs in a designated public forum, and has been publicly announced and open to all on equal terms," he wrote.
The issue developed at the Navy for Moms site, which explains it is "for mothers of kids in the U.S. Navy and for Moms who have questions about Navy life for their kids."
Its features include forums, groups, blogs and chat.
Liberty Counsel said the site was set up by the Navy to provide support and a means of communication for mothers and other loved ones of current and potential sailors.
Last September, a group set up by members called itself "Christian Chat."
But June 12 the website administrator "informed the group that it could not use the name 'Christian Chat.' The administrator said that the group's name had to be changed because such blatantly religious speech is too divisive for a public forum."
It was about then that the "guidelines" also were revised to prohibit the posting of religious discussions except for prayers offered for sailors, the letter says.
"The exclusion of religious groups and religious speech by the Navy on its Navy for Moms website is unconstitutional," said Corry. "The government may not create a public forum of support and then proclaim that religious views are not welcome – to do so is clearly unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.
"Liberty Counsel asks that the United States Navy not put itself in the position of opposing the First Amendment rights of its closest supporters," he said.
Other groups still are named "Nuke moms," "Texas moms" and the like.
The website's policy, however, said the site is a "community centered on support."
"This site is about the men and women who volunteer to serve their country, not about political parties or personal opinions of our elected officials," it states. "Not Permitted: Posting political or religious discussions in the Forums, Groups or Blogs, Forming political or religious groups."
A Navy spokesman declined to respond to WND's request for a comment on the dispute.
"The actions of the United States Navy and its agent, Campbell-Ewald Company, have unnecessarily exposed the Navy to liability for violating the civil rights of the members of 'Christian Chat' and other users of Navy for Moms to free speech," the letter warned.
"Specifically, I am asking you to send a written response to this letter within twenty (20) days with assurances that the members of 'Christian Chat' will be informed that their group name is not required to be changed, that all members and users of Navy for Moms will be informed of a change in policy such that the directives and restrictions on religious expression and association outlined in this letter have been withdrawn, and that the Navy for Moms community guidelines have been amended," the letter said.
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