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Political Animal

The Moral Is...

By Brian Morton | Posted 4/30/2008

One of my favorite H.L. Mencken aphorisms states, "Puritanism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy." As a nation founded by Puritans and criminals, we always seem to be trying to butt into someone else's happiness. And more often than not, it's the religious half doing the pushing.

Sometimes it just makes you want to laugh, like the recent legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) that would remove Playboy and Penthouse from the shelves of military exchange stores. Right off the bat you can tell Broun must be in high dudgeon due to the name of his bill, the "Military Honor and Decency Act." Broun, while introducing his bill April 16, said, "Our troops should not see their honor sullied so that the moguls behind magazines like Playboy and Penthouse can profit." It just makes me want to slap my cheek and exclaim, "Well, I never!"

Back in the Dark Ages of the 1980s, when I was an enlisted man in the U.S. Air Force, military exchanges sold a wide variety of our smut needs, up to and including Hustler, whose excruciatingly tasteless cartoons were a favorite of my barracks-mate. The periodicals used to sit on the very top shelves in the back corner of the magazine section, with little wooden planks over them to shield the covers from the eyes of children (which is always a good idea because, as we all know, small children tend to explode when exposed to gratuitous nudity).

When the Republicans took over the Congress in the mid-'90s, they brought their moralistic attitudes with them and started enshrining them into law. By 1997, they had pushed through the change in the Defense Authorization Act that banned sales of what they termed pornography on military bases. According to Army Times, the Defense Department's Resale Activities Board of Review soon after found Playboy and later Penthouse not to be "sexually explicit," and so they continued being sold.

Of course, for fuddy-duddies like Rep. Broun, that wasn't enough--the scourge of naked pictures is still fouling the minds and the honor of our soldiers, so Playboy and Penthouse must go. Broun said that eliminating the sale of those magazines will ensure that "taxpayers will not be footing the costs of distributing pornography." Except that officials in the military-exchange system say that tax dollars aren't used to purchase the magazines, since the operation is self-funded.

At that, Broun spokesman John Kennedy, told Army Times that taxpayer dollars are "used to pay military salaries, so taxpayer money is, in effect, being used to buy these materials."

Wow. Who knew that once those soldiers are paid, their money is still considered the property of "the taxpayers," and that they shouldn't be allowed to do with it what they wish?

Sadly, this mentality of forced morality has pervaded much of the military, to the point where one soldier is suing the military because, he says, he was retaliated against due to his atheism. The New York Times, on April 26, told the story of Spc. Jeremy Hall, who says he is being railroaded out of the Army.

Nothing threatens some Christians more than the idea that someone may not subscribe to their beliefs--we see it all the time with the Fox News Channel's annual "War on Christmas" debacle. The very fact that nonbelievers exist makes some think that their religion, which is assimilated throughout almost every facet of American culture to the point where we put "In God We Trust" on the money in the 1950s in order to stave off The Communist Menace, is on the defensive with its back to the wall.

The late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, during oral argument over a 2002 case that would have removed the words "Under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance (another 1950s anti-communist tactic), nearly cleared the court when appellant and atheist Michael Newdow scored a rhetorical touché over the Pledge. When Newdow argued about how divisive the addition was, given the uproar when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned "Under God" in the pledge, Rehnquist asked what the tally was on the congressional vote on it in 1954.

Newdow said it was unanimous. Rehnquist then asked how that could be divisive. Newdow countered, "It doesn't sound divisive? That's only because no atheist can get elected to Congress."

He has a point, doesn't he?

Someone, somewhere, cannot let others live their lives, spend their money, and believe as they wish--these are the modern Puritans in our ranks. Rep. Broun has no problem voting for our men to invade and occupy a foreign land, attempting to bring democracy at the point of a gun, but those men and women, who are tasked to kill by their government, must not have the free will of spirit to be able to read whatever magazines they want that are published under the system of commerce and free enterprise that we are trying to bring to that country along with democracy.

And Spc. Hall cannot believe as he wishes, to be free from religion and assemble with others who believe as he does without the threat of expulsion from the military. So what is the moral of this story?

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