When the 29th class of the Bossier Sheriff’s Young Marines graduates Saturday, it will be a poignant moment not only for the graduates, but for the program after months of national attention.
The program has stepped onto the national stage after the U.S. Department of Justice denied federal funding to the tune of $15,000 due to the program’s use of voluntary prayer and mention of God in its pledge.
“I have said all along that this is not a Democrat issue, it’s not a Republican issue…it’s an American issue,” Bossier Sheriff Julian Whittington said previously. “It seems to me that if the federal government followed the U.S. Constitution and upheld our basic religious freedoms, we wouldn’t be dealing with this matter of overt overreach in the first place.”
With the public outcry against the defunding, Whittington wants to make sure the focus is kept on the young men and women who completed the program in an effort to change their lives for the better.
“It certainly distracts and is in the way of a solution to the whole situation. This is certainly a problem that runs deeper than I ever thought,” he said. “
Whittington will deliver the keynote address Saturday as he graduates 22 recruits with at 10 a.m. at the Bossier Sheriff’s Substation at 2510 Viking Drive in Bossier City.
The recruits completed a two-week-long regimen of indoctrination and training, including leadership skills, physical training, teamwork, discipline and confidence building skills in order to become Young Marines. The program also instills the Marine Corps values of honor, courage and commitment and promotes a healthy drug-free lifestyle.
“Our staff and volunteers work diligently to provide a positive influence for our young people, and I am so proud of the accomplishments of these recruits as they’ve earned the title of Bossier Sheriff’s Young Marines,” said Whittington. “The Young Marines program is one of the best youth programs that helps mold the lives of young men and women.”
Public support and outcry has been strong since the Bossier Press-Tribune broke news in June that the funding was cut.
“The support has been overwhelming. I think it’s the idea of the federal government and the Department of Justice becoming so involved and going through great measures to limit and restrict what the Constitution guarantees us right here in Bossier. It has struck a nerve with people because it’s local, they can see what’s happening and they are banding together to do something about it.”
The public has responded with thousands of dollars worth of donations pouring into the program from all across the nation. In fact, the Allen West Foundation donated $2,000 Thursday afternoon to the program.
“The youth development program with the Young Marines helps develop young boys and girls into responsible citizens. These programs help build self-esteem and confidence, which will lead all of these young people into the future and carry them where they need to go. Thank you, Sheriff Whittington, for taking a stance not only for you, but for our country,” said Dr. Joseph Finley, Executive Director of The Allen West Foundation.
In the wake of the public outcry, the Sheriff’s Office held a July 4th “In God We Trust” rally with Gov. Bobby Jindal, Congressman John Fleming, and more than 2,500 attendees pledged their support of the program and call for funding to be reinstated.
Senator Mary Landrieu, D-La., has responded with proposed legislation — the Freedom to Pray Act — which will prohibit the federal government from withholding or revoking funds to programs whose participants engage in voluntary religious activities.
“I wish it wasn’t necessary, but evidently we’ve got a problem to work out. I do believe it’s constitutional and courts have ruled on this. It is a shame that we need a piece of legislation,” Landrieu told the Press-Tribune when she unveiled the legislation.
In July, the Press-Tribune reached out for a statement from DOJ concerning the defunding and received an email in relation to the Office of Justice Programs (OJP). The statement said the OJP “never defunded the Young Marines Program” and does not make funding determinations for these subgrantees. The Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement (LCLE), the state administering agency, is responsible for ensuring its subgrantees are in compliance with grant requirements, and for determining whether the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office receives funding.
The Press-Tribune reached out to national officials who had reportedly been in contact with DOJ on the Young Marines being defunded issue to see what they have heard and seen from the department.
Landrieu said it is “unfortunate” that DOJ “has failed to take responsibility” for the issue. “The bottom line is that I have been working with DOJ for more than a year and, despite their assurances, there has been no resolution to this problem,” she said.
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said the statement was an attempt to “pass the buck.”
“I’m not buying it, and I’ll keep the pressure on DOJ to end its religious censorship of the Bossier Parish Young Marines’ Program,” he pledged.
The Young Marines program is a national program founded in 1958 and is the official youth program of the United States Marine Corps. The Bossier Sheriff’s Office was the first law enforcement agency in North Louisiana to implement the program, which began its first class of recruits in 2002. Since then, the lives of 1,000 young men and women have been impacted by the Bossier Sheriff Young Marines program.
The Bossier Sheriff’s Young Marines is sponsored and administered by Bossier Sheriff Julian Whittington. Volunteer instructors with the United States Marine Corps assigned to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 23rd Marines in Bossier City are also an integral part in the training.
To find out more about the Bossier Sheriff’s Young Marine program, call 318-965-3500 or stop by the Viking Drive Substation at 2510 Viking Drive in Bossier City.