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Flag Ritual Returns to Annapolis Chapel
Military.com  |  By Bryant Jordan  |  February 26, 2008
One God in Heaven, one captain on the ship, so the saying goes.

But an issue over dipping the American flag toward a Christian altar during Protestant chapel services has the head of a religious watchdog group wondering who's in charge of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis.

Last fall Vice Adm. Jeffrey Fowler, the Academy's superintendent, ruled that the American and Brigade of Midshipmen flags were no longer to be marched down the center aisle and dipped before the altar during religious services. 

Because his authority is somewhat supreme within the walls of Annapolis, you'd think that would have been the end of the discussion.

But now the flags are back in the chapel and reportedly it is the admiral who has avoided the Protestant services for the past two Sundays.

A spokeswoman for the Naval Academy would not say directly whether Fowler is boycotting the services, which is what advocates of the flag ritual claim, but only that "attendance at religious services is a personal and private matter and is optional for all faculty, staff and midshipmen."

Fowler was unavailable for comment on this story because he was on travel, his spokesman said.

The 11 a.m. Protestant service at the Academy's famous chapel is the only one throughout the Navy where the flag has been incorporated in that way, and there is no authority for it, an Academy spokeswoman told Military.com on Feb. 22.

The practice of dipping the flags before the altar at the Protestant service goes back about 40 years, Academy spokeswoman Deborah Goode said.  In a statement issued to Military.com Feb. 22, Goode explained their return somewhat cryptically: "Following continued evaluation, parading and dipping the flags was incorporated back into the 11 a.m. Sunday Protestant services."

An advocate for the rite, whose letter informing supporters that the flag ritual was in place again for the Feb. 17 service, reported that as the flags "were processed down the center aisle [many] were in tears at seeing their return."

Robert Morrison, a Coast Guard veteran who has been attending the service for 12 years with his family, reported in his letter that: "The 'Supe,' however, did not return," a reference to Fowler.

"Vice Admiral Jeffrey Fowler underscored his direct order [to remove the flags] with the word that if his command was not obeyed, he would no longer worship at the 11:00 am Protestant worship service," Morrison said in his letter, which was published in part without attribution on the Web site Reasoned Audacity.

The co-publisher of the site confirmed for Military.com Feb. 25 that Morrison was the source of the letter.

"We would welcome Admiral Fowler and his family [back to the services], but not at the price of our precious religious liberty," Morrison wrote.

While Morrison and others may view the return of the flags as a victory, the head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation calls Fowler’s willingness to let the flags back in "cowardly."

"Admiral Fowler is dual-hatted as the most senior commander and [the] university president, and he's simply going to boycott chapel services now that his order to stop violating the constitution has been refused?" said Mikey Weinstein.

Weinstein revealed the flags' return and Fowler's boycott of the services when a supporter of his foundation forwarded to him the Reasoned Audacity blog that included Morrison's letter.

Jack Yoest, a management training consultant who with his wife, Charmaine, publishes Reasoned Audacity, said in his Feb. 20 blog that Fowler "is clearly confused on the hierarchy between the state and the church. It would appear that he, like most Godless liberals, fear the dominance of the Creator."

He said Fowler and other liberals shouldn't be afraid, however, because Christians are commanded to obey every law of the state "save one." If it means breaking the law to, as he put it, "share the Good News," he said Christians are bound to take that course of action.

Morrison told Military.com Feb. 25 that he believes Fowler originally removed the flags under the advice of the judge advocates under his command.

"I think he was operating with some bad advice," Morrison said.

But Weinstein thinks Fowler’s willingness to let the flags become part of a religious service once more is tantamount to relinquishing his command.

"Vice Admiral Fowler sadly wins the 'Fundamentalist Christian Most Intimidated Award' for 2008 so far," Weinstein told Military.com in a statement. "Such profound duplicity and cowardice fatally disgraces the U.S. Naval Academy, the U.S. Navy, and the entirety of our American armed forces, all of whom have taken a sacred blood oath to protect and defend, support and serve the Constitution of the United States … not the New Testament."

Weinstein said it’s as if Fowler ordered male midshipmen not to sexually assault female colleagues during meal at the Bancroft Hall mess facility, and when they refused he simply protested by not dining there himself.

Capt. Gregory Caiazzo, a spokesman for the Navy Chief of Chaplains, said he had no knowledge of the flag issue at Annapolis but considered it “an internal issue” for the Naval Academy.

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