Conservative Media Claim ‘Persecution’ of Christians in the Military, but Actual Soldiers Call Bullshit

Shocking news. I hope you’re sitting down.

Being a conservative and a Christian marks you for persecution in today’s military.

So claims FOX News Radio journalist Todd Starnes. So says Master Sergeant Nathan Sommers, a member of the U.S. Army Band. And so parrots Ret. Navy Commander John Bennett Wells, who is representing Sommers:

[Wells] said there is no doubt in his mind that the U.S. military is discriminating against Christians — and specifically his client. “There’s no question about it,” Wells told Fox News. “Because he is religious, because he feels that homosexual conduct is wrong for religious reasons, he is basically being persecuted.”

What got Sommers in hot water with his superiors? It wasn’t one thing in particular, but a string of behaviors, opinions, and utterances over time. For instance:

  • His private car, frequently seen on the military base, was festooned with bumper stickers that read, among other things, “NOBAMA,” NOPE2012,” and “The Road to Bankruptcy is Paved with Ass-Fault” (the latter featured the image of a donkey).
  • At one point, Sommers took to social media to share his anti-gay and anti-leftwing disgust, tweeting “Lordy, Lordy, it’s faggot Tuesday. The lefty loons and Obamabots are out in full force.”
  • Sommers claims he was also reprimanded over certain books he read backstage in uniform, written by right-wingers such as Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, and David Limbaugh.
  • When he was promoted to Master Sergeant, he served Chick-fil-A sandwiches as a political statement, because the fast-food chain’s Chief Operating Officer and founder’s son had famously declared himself in favor of “traditional marriage” and against equal rights for gay couples. Sommers tweeted: “In honor of DADT repeal, and Obama/Holder’s refusal to enforce DOMA act, I’m serving Chick-fil-A at my MSG promo reception for Army today.”

Nathan Sommers’ promotion took place last September. So his open beliefs notwithstanding, the Army thought enough of the man to give his career a lift. Not exactly prima facie evidence of “persecution,” is it?

Sommers may need a refresher course on U.S. Armed Forces rules and regulations, which stipulate that public disparagement of anyone up the chain of command, the Commander-in-Chief in the White House obviously included, is conduct unbecoming a wearer of the uniform. The military document that FOX’s Todd Starnes makes much of having uncovered states simply:

“As a Soldier you must be cognizant of the fact that your statements can be perceived by the general public and other service members to be of a nature bordering on disrespect to the President of the United States.”

By all reasonable accounts, this should have been a non-story, and it didn’t seem to get much immediate traction when Starnes broke it late last week. But by and by, the “Christian persecution” angle picked up steam via the Drudge Report, National Review, Sean Hannity’s radio show, and hundreds of other news outlets.

In case I somehow missed a legitimate reason for concern, I asked a couple of military men I know for their take.

This is where I get to introduce you to a guy I met and became very good friends with some five or six years ago — an evangelical theologian and preacher named Benjamin Corey. Corey, who is now a doctoral candidate in the field of Missiology, is a former Technical Sergeant who served as a Military Education Instructor from 1995 to 2004.

Here’s his perspective:

Military personnel are under a different set of laws (the Uniform Code of Military Justice), which has a completely different standard on things that would be unheard of under U.S. law. For example, you cannot give money to a political candidate; cannot attend protests in work uniform; can go to jail for consensual adultery (even if one member is single, and the other is legally separated, etc). So, what they’re talking about isn’t that outlandish to me.

I bet there is more to the story and that this guy was a loudmouth, and that it was causing co-workers to be miserable.

Sommers pretty much admits exactly that when he recalls a meeting with a superior officer:

“He explained to me that homosexual soldiers were now afraid of me,” Sommers said. “He showed me a letter from an Army Band colleague that demanded that I publicly apologize (to) the band for my statements and that I should be removed from positions of leadership and influence.”

Says Corey:

If [Sommers] was causing workplace tension, something that affects our ability to be prepared to fight wars, [the officer] actually did the right thing. In a military setting, workplace cohesion is more important than an individual. It’s just different than in the civilian world.

Corey’s been there himself:

In 1996 I got in trouble for having an anti-Clinton statement on my personal home answering machine. I was given a direct order to remove it, and I did. They were right. I was 19 and just learning the ropes.

Regarding the Nathan Sommers affair, he dismisses the “spin” of FOX News:

I do not believe that Christians or conservatives in the military are persecuted. In fact, unless military culture has changed drastically since I retired in ’04, which I don’t believe it has, it’s liberals who are persecuted. Military culture is extremely red and conservative, with very little tolerance for liberals.

I also contacted another source I know well personally, a senior military officer with almost a quarter century of U.S. Air Force active duty, Reserve, and National Guard experience. Mitchell (not his real name) is a Lieutenant Colonel who’s getting ready to deploy for a sixth time. Though raised in an evangelical Christian nest, he considers himself an agnostic.

Here’s Mitchell’s take:

When we are in uniform, we represent the military. Anything we do or say that is contrary to military laws, regulations, and policies, regardless of our personal beliefs, is subject to punishment. We can voice our opinions up the chain of command, but making anti-homosexual comments and derogatory comments about the President in public are not acceptable. Everyone in the military is trained regularly on this.

But surely, even in uniform, you’re allowed to read a book by Sean Hannity or any other hyper-partisan lying sack of shit professional agitator of your choosing, whether the author is on the left or on the right? Aye, says Mitchell.

Reading right-wing books shouldn’t be a problem. I suspect there is more to the story. There was a right-wing conspiracy fanatic in my Guard unit that read those books but also had to explain to everyone what he had just read, as if it was truth… They found a medical reason to discharge him.

Serving Chick-fil-A shouldn’t be a problem either. Publicly explaining his reasons for serving Chick-fil-A sandwiches probably was.

I’ll give Corey the last word on the so-called persecution of Christians in the military:

Any formal function — large meetings called “Commander’s Calls,” award ceremonies, recognition dinners, etc. — are all opened in prayer by a chaplain, most commonly a Christian chaplain. So I’m hard-pressed to say there are anti-Christian sentiments in the military… An atheist would have a much more persuasive argument [alleging anti-atheist bias] considering all the times they’re forced to sit through group prayer. And I say that as an evangelical Christian.


P.S.: Anyone wishing to discuss Christianity’s role in the U.S. military should read this incredible story from Harper’s Magazine, tellingly titled “Jesus Killed Mohammed.” It reveals how a loose cadre of high-ranking officers has orchestrated

… a quiet coup within the armed forces: not of generals encroaching on civilian rule but of religious authority displacing the military’s once staunchly secular code. Not a conspiracy but a cultural transformation, achieved gradually through promotions and prayer meetings, with personal faith replacing protocol according to the best intentions of commanders who conflate God with country. They see themselves not as subversives but as spiritual warriors — “ambassadors for Christ in uniform.”

Read the whole thing… but you might want to duct-tape your lower jaw to your face first.

(images via Lew Rockwell, Ojai Post, and Vietnam Veteran Wives)

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder of Moral Compass, a now dormant site that poked fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards. He joined Friendly Atheist in 2013.