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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, August 13, 2002

'I believe in God' to be erased from Navy youth cards

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

Navy Region Hawai'i has agreed to change the language on Boys & Girls Clubs membership cards issued to youths participating in Navy programs that state, "I believe in God."

The code, with a signature line below it, states: "I believe in God and the right to worship according to my own faith and religion; I believe in America and the American way of life ... in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights; I believe in fair play, honesty and sportsmanship; I believe in my Boys & Girls Club which stands for these things."

The decision comes after Hawai'i Citizens for the Separation of State and Church, an organization headed by Mitchell Kahle, said the Navy was violating the Constitution by requiring participants to sign the membership club "code."

"The cards issued by Navy Region Hawai'i will be modified in the future, and we will offer to exchange any currently issued cards if any of our holders request to do so," spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Jane Campbell said yesterday.

Campbell said local Navy officials "are looking at what the phrasing on the cards would be so you wouldn't have somebody, I guess, taking offense," but she did not know what the new language will be.

Campbell said youngsters do not have to present the cards to participate in activities. A total of 113 cards stating "I believe in God" were issued, she said.

Kahle, who said he received complaints from two active-duty sailors at Pearl Harbor about the club code, said the Navy decision to change the wording is qualified good news.

"We agree with what the Navy is saying — with prejudice — meaning let's see what you are planning to put on there (the cards), and then we'll see if it's OK to put this behind us," Kahle said yesterday.

He also said he wants the Navy to recall already distributed cards.

Kahle, who battled the Army to get it to remove a 37-foot cross from Kolekole Pass and was successful in getting limitations on the use of nativity scenes in the Honolulu City Lights program, sent a letter Aug. 5 to Rear Adm. Robert T. Conway Jr., commander of Navy Region Hawai'i, complaining about the Boys & Girls Clubs "code."

Kahle said he takes issue with the "I believe in God" statement.

"It's making a belief statement for you," Kahle said. "I can decide for myself whether I believe in God or not."

The Navy's Morale, Welfare and Recreation Youth and Leisure Programs became the Boys & Girls Clubs of Navy Hawai'i Aug. 4, 2001, as part of a Department of Defense partnership with the national, nonprofit youth organization based in Atlanta.

Boys & Girls Clubs, intended in particular for disadvantaged youth, has five "core" programs: character development, education and career development, fine arts, sports, and fitness and recreation.

Campbell said Navy Region Hawai'i also will send a letter to parents of youths participating in the programs to make them aware of the modified cards. No parent complaints have been received about the cards, she said.

More than 245 military youth centers worldwide from all the services are tied to Boys & Girls Clubs. Campbell was not sure if other Navy programs issued the same membership card.

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-5459.