As a 1960 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, I take grave exception to Talbot Manvel's op-ed page commentary on mealtime prayers at our military institutions ("Naval Academy tradition vs. Constitution," May 17).
If he does not like to subject himself to the prayers, he is free to take a walk to another academic institution that has less respect for any sort of expression of feeling toward a Supreme Being. He could wear ear plugs to the mess hall, go into his muddled head, or simply tune out. No one is forcing him to stay at the Naval Academy.
There are a lot more of us, past or present, who see this simply as a time to reflect and pay silent homage to whatever superior being we may worship. Heaven knows we all need spiritual guidance to help us through the demanding four years.
As for the constitutionality issue, I also believe that he is off base. His position, of course, is politically correct in a society that is trying its best to eliminate all traces of Judeo-Christian thought. It is about time those of us who respect the religious nature of our forefathers fought back.
The First Amendment to the Constitution, which contains the so-called establishment of religion clause, is probably the most misread part of this sacred document. It is utterly preposterous to maintain that the school, by having a non-denominational prayer at mealtime, is in any way shape or form "establishing" a religion at the school.
The slick-tongued oratory flowing out of the courts may find this plausible, but common sense going back to our founding clearly sees this as a provision set up for the express purpose of prohibiting either the federal or state government from establishing a state religion and forcing citizens to participate in it.
Finally, I believed that when we cadets took that step forward and took the oath, we temporarily set aside our constitutional rights for whatever period of time we attended the academy or continued in service to the country. When we resigned our commission, we then returned to society and resumed full coverage of the Bill of Rights. Those who think otherwise, in my opinion, do not take the oath seriously.
Gary D. Ballard, Bel Air
The writer is a 1960 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy.