are a number of scandals currently plaguing
Washington DC; unfortunately, that doesn't seem all that unusual. One
that doesn't seem to be getting much attention arises out of,
perhaps, the most respected institution in America - the United
States military - and it goes right to the core of religious liberty.
headlines have caused some worshipers to fear fellow adherents in
uniform might be purged from the military. In addressing these
speculations let's look beyond the headlines and some confusing statements
by the military to get a layout of the policy, a particularly nasty
antagonist, some history, and then throw in a little irony to provoke
some needed questions.
POLICY IN QUESTION
issue is a concern that service members, including military
chaplains, are being banned from sharing their religious faith with
other service members. Recently, US military policy was quoted by
Todd Starnes on the FOX News website, stating, "Religious
proselytization is not permitted within the Department of
Defense". He then added, "... Court Martials and
nonjudicial punishments are decided on a case-by-case basis."
quote created confusion as to whether those in the military could
openly talk about their faith. When coupled with the comments of Mikey Weinstein, President of the Military Religious
Freedom Foundation (MRFF) it will become apparent how the tempest
grew. But before we get to the fun of that food fight, let's clear up
the policy conflict.
quotes were accurate. However, they were a combination of two
disjointed sentences that created the wrong impression. The Defense
Department (DOD) sought to clarify the situation and issued a follow
up statement that said:
members can share their faith (evangelize), but must not force
unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others of any faith or no
faith to one's beliefs (proselytization).
statement, while intended to add clarity, breeds a little confusion
of its own. Dictionary definitions of the words evangelize and
proselytize shows them to be synonyms. That being the case, obviously
a problem occurs when one synonym is viewed to be good and the other
bad when used in the same sentence.
really lit the fuse to this blowup were the words of Mikey
Weinstein. On April 23 Weinstein met with DOD officials to consult
with them regarding the military's policies on religious freedom. A
week later, in a Huffington Post column, he referred to evangelical
Christians as, "monsters of human degradation, marginalization,
humiliation and tyranny."
was not a solitary rant by Mr. Weinstein. In an interview with FOX
News, he described proselytizing as, "...a version of being
spiritually raped and you are being spiritually raped by
fundamentalist Christian religious predators." On other
occasions he accused members of the military who evangelize as being
"guilty of sedition and treason and should be punished by the
hundreds, if necessary." And, in speaking to the Washington
Post, he described evangelization as a "national security
Weinstein is no charmer. And judging by his rhetoric, perhaps he
should consider renaming his nonprofit the Military Freedom
"FROM" Religion Foundation.
tension is certainly not all attributable to a FOXNews article, nor a
hysterical atheist "promoting religious freedom". In 2011,
the Army changed visiting guidelines at Walter Reed Medical Center to
state: "No religious items (i.e. Bibles, reading materials
and/or fax) are allowed to be given away or used
during a visit." Because of public outcry, the Army quickly
rescinded the guideline modification.
March of this year a story began to crop up regarding a military
PowerPoint being circulated that identified Evangelical Christianity
and Roman Catholics as being "extremist", like al Qaeda. As
it turned out, the story was true; however it was not sanctioned by
the DOD but was a training brief developed and promoted by a
Pennsylvania Army Reserve Equal Opportunity unit. The Department of the
Army has said it does not condone the training and it was an isolated
event. Even though isolated, it fits the current storyline concerning
the end of April, another story broke that caused concern among
Christians that they were being targeted by the military. Several
major media outlets reported that the largest evangelical
denomination in America, the Southern Baptist Convention, had its
website blocked by the military for "hostile content". As
it turned out, the website had been blocked; but, not due to its
religious content, but because the site was identified as having
malware, a malicious software, that was blocked by the military's
antivirus programming. The initial quick conclusion and reporting
that this was religious bias, further evidences the growing suspicion
many Christians have regarding the military concerning issues of
Civil Rights Union, Senior Legal Analyst Ken Klukowski, stated,
"...this growing controversy is just the latest in a series of
infringements on religious expression." In support of his
assertion, Klukowski provides several specific examples that have
been shared by retired and active service members:
Rear Admiral William D. Lee reported that in early May, "... he
was told by lawyers he was crossing the line by giving a Bible to a
wounded service member...Lee responded he would not stop sharing the
gospel with people, regardless of whether military policy forbids
Ron Crews, (Army chaplain), the executive director of the Chaplain
Alliance for Religious Liberty (CARL), said, "...there are
numerous examples of restricting religious expression in the
- An Air Force Major with 18
years of service was told he had to remove his Bible from his desk,
where it sat alongside family pictures and personal items.
- Another Air Force officer was
told he could attend chapel services while in uniform, but could
not read Scripture aloud, lead the congregation in prayer, or
even serve as an usher.
- Air Force cadets last year had
to stop participating in Operation Christmas Child in their
dorms, where they competed to fill boxes with toys to give to
children for Christmas. Cadets could only donate toys at the
- Crews received an email just
two weeks ago from an Army chaplain who was told that during
public ceremonies he could never mention the name
"Jesus" in any context."
Klukowski concludes, "Whatever word you assign to these actions,
they are suppressing the First Amendment rights of service members.
And they span all the branches of the Armed Forces."
was one of the first to break this story and he has also written of
congressional inquiries regarding Weinstein's influence or impact on
policy, interference with chaplain's duties by prohibition or
prosecution, and progress by the military in implementing § 533 of
the National Defense Authorization Act, which protects freedom of
religious belief and conscience for all serving in the military,
hope these incidents are isolated and diminishing in frequency.
Though the Obama administration suffers a reputation as being not
very evangelical friendly, I suspect the DOD meeting with Weinstein
was taken more out of a necessity of having to deal with him, rather than
an intention to implement his radical anti-evangelical bigotry. After
all, the President had more than "just a few" church
attendees that voted for him, both times.
for a good dose of irony, from Crisis Magazine, in an article by American
Spectator contributing editor, George Neumayr:
the military's confused culture of loose moral philosophy, strict
feminism, and combustible masculinity has come an endless stream of
reports on sexual misconduct in the ranks. This week Congress mulled
over the Pentagon's admission that sexual assault cases have spiked
35 percent in the last two years.
using anonymous surveys and sampling research, estimated that 26,000
active-duty personnel experienced 'unwanted sexual contact'
last year, up from about 19,300 in 2010, according to an ongoing
Defense Department study,' reported the Washington
strange, then, that a military reeling from an epidemic of coarseness
and immorality would continue to marginalize Christianity in its
ranks. It is hardly suffering from an outbreak of Christian
virtue and witness."
from a fundamental Christian concept, all human beings are sinners
and in need of a Savior. Therefore Christians are not perfect.
Acknowledging the imperfection, Christianity-as practiced-tries to
uplift, ennoble, and encourage its members to conduct themselves in
the imitation of their sinless Savior. Hopefully they are transformed
through their encounter with their risen and living Lord.
political correctness change the military? Will sharing one's faith
become the new, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"? Or will polite
Christians infuse the culture of our military with a proper display
of conduct and character?
serves as the Executive Director of CapStand. Mr Bragan has an
extensive background in political activism having served on numerous
political camnpaigns and, most recently serving on Capitol Hill as a
Congressional Counsel and Legislative Assistant. He has lectured in
20 states on political activism, finance, organization and elections.
He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org