I just got a depressing message from an active duty soldier:
Wow. One of the churches here on post is really pushing things here. I was stopped by a car while walking back from Burger King and they asked me if I wanted to come to church with them. I politely denied and they asked me if I believed on god, “no, I don’t” I replied. “Why not?!?” He exclaimed. I told him that was a conversation that neither of us had time for and certainly not one I wanted to have in the middle of the street. Now I walk up to the barracks and there are two guys bugging another soldier about Jesus and Satan outside.
Can they do this on post? -NAME / RANK / DUTY STATION WITHHELD
No. The reason why is a bit complex, only because it’s unclear whether they were representing an off-post Church, or a chapel service. It’s not legal either way, but each scenario has entirely different regulations. More on that in a bit.
They were on post and stopped at the old chapel here at [WITHHELD]. They kept following me in the car trying to talk to me.
This is harassment. Call the MP’s. It’s the right thing to do. They are way over the line, and obviously will do this to many more soldiers.
Scenario 1: Membership drive for off-post church
It’s extremely likely that they were recruiting for an off-post church. In legalese those churches are called ‘non-federal entities’.
They must be an approved Non-Federal Entity at that post. It’s not necessarily that difficult, as all churches are already 501(c)3 default. Still, they have to apply with the post commander, and their charter for approval they must spell out what actions they plan to do. I highly doubt “chase down all the sinners at Burger King” is in their charter.
If a commander let one church group roam free, they have to let all of them roam free. That includes Jehovah’s Witnesses, Latter-Day Saints, Scientology, potentially even Westboro Baptist Church.
Even in the alternate universe where WBC and LDS are allowed to run around on military bases, they still couldn’t conduct these miniature membership drives. The Department of Defense has several regulations that prohibit this scenario.
b. The Heads of the DoD Components shall:
(2) Be aware of all non-Federal entities operating on installations under their jurisdiction.
DoDI 1000.15 enclosure 2 ‘Procedures’
2. Activities of non-Federal entities covered by this Instruction shall not in any way prejudice or
discredit the DoD Components or other Federal Government agencies.
4. A non-Federal entity covered by this Instruction shall not offer programs or services on DoD
installations that compete with appropriated or NAF activities, but may, when specifically
authorized, supplement those activities.
Army Regulation 600-20 – Army Command Policy
Chapter 6 - The Equal Opportunity Program in the Army
6-8 - Off-post activities, on-post activities, and off-limit actions
d. On-post activities… Installation commanders are responsible for ensuring that an organization taking advantage of or using on-post facilities (whether on a reimbursable basis or otherwise) does not engage in unlawful discriminatory practices. It is not enough to depend solely on the published bylaws or the constitution of the organization. The installation commander must assess the organization’s actual membership practices and their effect upon the command. In cases where the installation commander determines that credible information of discriminatory practices by an on-post private organization has been presented, the organization has the burden of proving it did not engage in discriminatory practices. Failure to substantiate the absence of discriminatory practices will result in a denial of the use of on-post facilities.
There is NO scenario that authorizes membership drives for a non-federal entity using DoD facilities. In other words, churches can’t proselytize in the on-post Burger King parking lot, or creeping in their cars on the way home. Or anywhere else.
Joint Ethics Regulations 3-211
Scenario 2: Proselytizing for a chapel service
Honestly, this is a less likely scenario, but it does happen. Chaplains, and their chaplain’s assistants should know that they can’t proselytize. They certainly can’t follow you back to the barracks, harassing you as you walk (seriously, call the MP’s if this happens again.) I’d imagine that most chaplains would strongly discourage this method of getting new members.
Simply asking random strangers if they’d go to their church is borderline. You told them that you didn’t even believe in god. That should be the end of the story right there. For a small but vocal minority of chaplains, they zero in on those who make these statements.
I’ve asked chaplains to stop handing me pamphlets and fliers. Most of them do. One of them gave me twice as many pamphlets, and said, “I’m not proselytizing, but I do reserve the right to evangelize the un-churched.”
What the fuck does that mean? Aren’t all non-Christians ‘un-churched’?
What a flimsy loophole they pretend to have. At one point I tracked down this language to the by-laws of a powerful chaplaincy-endorsing agency. It’s certainly not in any military regulation. ‘Ecclesiastical Endorsing Agents’ are representative of their sects, and are not government entities. They can say ridiculous stuff but it doesn’t make it true or legal.
Go to the garrison level Inspector General and the Equal Opportunity offices. If you still get no help, contact me. It’s time to ‘lawyer up’.