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Organizations accuse Marine Corps of religious discrimination

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Statues of the three wise men written about in Christian scripture who brought gifts to honor the birth of Jesus Christ, on the grounds at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. (photo courtesy of Military Religious Freedom Foundation)

The San Diego ACLU chapter and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation are publically accusing the Marine Corps of religious discrimination — the Corps denies the allegations saying the service is full compliance with the U.S. Constitution and federal, state and local laws.

The San Diego Union Tribune reports the accusation stems from the Marine’s lighted Christmas display on the grounds of Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego of the Three Wise Men bearing gifts to baby Jesus during the holiday season.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation petitioned Marine Brig. Gen. William Jurney — commander of the boot camp and the Western Recruiting Region — to let troops of other faiths put up religious displays near the Biblical scene.

The foundation, which is headquartered in New Mexico, said in the petition it represents 27 active-duty, retired and veteran Marines who are affiliated with the installation.

The foundation says they represent Jewish people and Marines who are Christian but don’t worship any deity. The foundation contends the Corps appears to promote Christianity over the other faiths stationed at the recruiting depot.

Earlier this month, the Marines responded to the foundation, but the foundation didn’t agree with their response.

Jurney’s staff judge advocate general, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Munoz, told the foundation in a letter that such concerns were “premature” because there’s no longer a display on the MCRD grounds and “the (next) holiday season is months away.”

Munoz said the Corps is in full compliance with the U.S. Constitution and federal, state and local laws, and that the service would never endorse any religion over another.

The ALCU San Diego said the Corps is skirting the issue.

David Loy, legal director for the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, entered the fray. He wrote to the Corps alleging that Munoz was trying to sidestep the issue — an effort that he described as “at best evasive and at worst thinly veiled discrimination.”

The San Diego Union Tribune points out that in 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court case of Lemon v. Kurzman concluded with a ruling that a government policy violates the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment if its purpose isn’t secular, primarily advances or inhibits religion, or fosters an excessive entanglement of the government with a faith.

The foundation’s creator, Michael “Mikey” Weinstein, a former Air Force officer offers an emblematic response for the Marines he represents saying, “These Marines shouldn’t have to be like the tarantula on a wedding cake, afraid to go up the chain of command. They should be protected because the Bill of Rights exists not for the convenience of the majority but to prevent the tyranny of the majority.”

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