Military Discrimination Against Christians??

Fox News columnist Todd Starnes is at it again. Determined to see an anti-Christian bias in the military where none exists, he published this in a post from July 8th, 2013:

There is a clear and present danger to religious liberty within the military, says a coalition of groups who believe the Obama Administration is pushing a secular, anti-religious culture on the nation’s armed forces.”Christians who choose to live out their faith find themselves incompatible with the secular view of this administration,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. “We’re establishing a beach head for religious liberty and the evidence points to a very deliberate attack.”

So, this coalition that Starnes quotes apparently thinks that the Obama administration is somehow attacking “religious liberty” within the military.  Huh, it’s funny how their interest in so-called religious liberty seems to be focused only on Christians.

Starnes then provides a laundry list of so-called offenses, regurgitated from a variety of sources going back to around 2005 that supposedly “prove” that discrimination against religious people in the military is some sort of epidemic.  My favorite misguided example is this:

The Army ordered a cross and steeple removed from a chapel in Afghanistan and an Air Force officer was told to remove a Bible from his desk.

I know the story about the cross and steeple being removed from a chapel in Afghanistan and it’s an absolutely true story that was broken by Justin Griffith here on RBB, but Starnes did not divulge the whole story.  That chapel was a facility that was built for service members of all faiths and was being used my multiple faith groups as worship space, and it was disrespectful to every religious non-Christian to force them to use space that was clearly Christian space, as evidenced by the cross and steeple. Army regulations clearly state that religious space had to be built in a neutral manner so that faith specific items could be added and removed depending on the type of service that was taking place.  So, bringing this facility into compliance with Army regulations so that it could comfortably and appropriately be used by all faith groups was clearly a matter of PROTECTING religious liberty and NOT an instance of religious discrimination as claimed.

Now, I don’t know the story about this Air Force officer who claims he was told to remove a Bible from his desk but I suspect the REAL story is every bit as illuminating as the above story about the chapel.  It reminds me of the commander I once had who used a Bible in his office as a prop so that he could handily preach to anyone who had the misfortune of having to interact with him one-on-one in his office.  He used his position as a bully-pulpit at every possible opportunity and I don’t recall any coalition complaining about THAT guy.

But wait, there’s more:

“We will stand with servicemembers who wish to exercise their First Amendment rights of religious liberty,” Boykin said. ‘We must do all we can to ensure that our servicemembers have the right to practice the very freedoms that they risk their lives to defend.”

They’ve made it pretty clear to me that when they say “service members”, they mean exclusively Christian service members, who, incidentally, don’t risk their lives on any greater basis than their non Christian fellows.

“Members of the military are coming to us confidentially with further reports of attacks on religious liberty,” he said. “This is just a sampling of the cases that have been made public.” 

For every single instance of alleged religious discrimination against Christians, organization such as American Atheists, the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation have documented thousands of valid complaints from service members discriminated against because they were NOT Christians.  This coalition doesn’t want to protect religious liberty, they want to protect the status quo that has allowed the Christian majority to impose their faith others, whenever and wherever they chose. They don’t want to protect rights;  they want to protect their long-held privilege of denying rights to those service members who don’t share their Christian faith.

I actually understand their fear, and they absolutely should be afraid. Their particular faith expression has always been protected through privilege and tradition, as well as by commanders eager to force their troops into towing the god-and-country line, and it is a fact that those non-Christians who now serve aren’t simply rolling over and taking the abuse and discrimination any longer.   Change is scary, and when you have always had the power to force compliance and no longer have that power, that’s about as scary as it gets for a paranoid religionist who sees evil influences around every corner.  But change is coming, whether they like it or not, and they can hang on for the ride or get the hell out of the way..

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About Kathleen Johnson

Vice President and past military director for American Atheists

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