Is the Military Preparing to Court Martial Christians? (UPDATED)

UPDATE: I have information from  Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a DoD Spokesman, regarding two issues of interest to claims about the military and religious faith. The first relates claims that Christians were being targeted. Lt. Cmdr. Christensen said in an email:

“The U.S. Department of Defense has never and will never single out a particular religious group for persecution or prosecution.  The Department makes reasonable accommodations for all religions and celebrates the religious diversity of our service members.

Service 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).

If a service member harasses another member on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, or disability, then the commander takes action based on the gravity of the occurrence.  Likewise, when religious harassment complaints are reported, commanders take action based on the gravity of the occurrence on a case by case basis.

The Department of Defense places a high value on the rights of members of the Military Services to observe the tenets of their respective religions and respects (and supports by its policy) the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs.  The Department does not endorse any one religion or religious organization, and provides free access of religion for all members of the military services.

We work to ensure that all service members are free to exercise their Constitutional right to practice their religion — in a manner that is respectful of other individuals’ rights to follow their own belief systems; and in ways that are conducive to good order and discipline; and that do not detract from accomplishing the military mission.”

This makes things clearer and I hope cuts through the news reports that have helped generate the controversy.

The second statement is about the role of Mikey Weinstein in the meeting he had with military leaders at the Pentagon. Some sources have suggested he was a consultant. According Lt. Cmdr Christensen:

“Mr. Weinstein is not part of any DoD Advisory Group or Committee, nor is he a consultant to the Defense Department regarding religious matters.

Mr. Weinstein requested, and was granted, a meeting at the Pentagon April 23, with the Air Force Judge Advocate General and others, to include the Deputy Chief of Chaplains, to express his concerns of religious issues in the military.

The Department of Defense places a high value on the rights of members of the Military Services to observe the tenets of their respective religions and respects (and supports by its policy) the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs.  The Department does not endorse any one religion or religious organization, and provides free access of religion for all members of the military services.”

UPDATE: Bob Smietana at the Tennessean contacted the DOD regarding the reports of court martial and purging the military of Christians. He reports that the DOD denies these claims. According to a DOD spokesman, people can share their faith but cannot force their beliefs on others.

…..(original post begins here)

You might believe so if you listen to religious right pundits over the last couple of days.  On April 30, Fox News pundit Todd Starnes told his listeners that military leaders met with Mikey Weinstein in April to discuss military regulations against sharing one’s religious faith. As quoted by Starnes, Weinstein said “Until the Air Force or Army or Navy or Marine Corps punishes a member of the military for unconstitutional religious proselytizing and oppression, we will never have the ability to stop this horrible, horrendous, dehumanizing behavior.” On point, Starnes cites a Department of Defense spokesman: “’Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense,’ [spokesman] Nate Christensen said in a written statement.”

So is military leadership declaring war on Christians? On the contrary; as I read them, the regulations protect Christians and all others from religious pressure from superior officers who might use their influence and direct authority to impose religious views on subordinates. And these regulations are not that new. The Air Force has for a long time disallowed the use of position to impose religious beliefs.

The newest statement of the regulation comes in Air Force Instruction 1-1 dated August 7, 2012. Here are the relevant sections in full (read the entire instruction):

2.11. Government Neutrality Regarding Religion. Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for an individual’s free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. For example, they must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion. Commanders or supervisors who engage in such behavior may cause members to doubt their impartiality and objectivity. The potential result is a degradation of the unit’s morale, good order, and discipline. Airmen, especially commanders and supervisors, must ensure that in exercising their right of religious free expression, they do not degrade morale, good order, and discipline in the Air Force or degrade the trust and confidence that the public has in the United States Air Force.

2.12. Free Exercise of Religion and Religious Accommodation. Supporting the right of free exercise of religion relates directly to the Air Force core values and the ability to maintain an effective team.

2.12.1. All Airmen are able to choose to practice their particular religion, or subscribe to no religious belief at all. You should confidently practice your own beliefs while respecting others whose viewpoints differ from your own.

2.12.2. Your right to practice your religious beliefs does not excuse you from complying with directives, instructions, and lawful orders; however, you may request religious accommodation. Requests can be denied based on military necessity. Commanders and supervisors at all levels are expected to ensure that requests for religious accommodation are dealt with fairly.

Compare this regulation to the screaming Breitbart headline: “Pentagon May Court Martial Soldiers Who Share Christian Faith.”

The regulation does not forbid expressing one’s faith to others but does require superior officers to “avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion.” Why would anyone oppose this common sense directive? Using one’s position of authority to compel religious speech or practice should be forbidden and is a protection against manipulation for all soldiers. For instance, this regulation could come into play if an atheist superior officer constantly mocks the religious views of subordinates, implying favor to those who are like-minded.  This regulation only covers imposition of religious beliefs and specifically mentions coercion from a military leader as an illustration. Simply expressing one’s religious beliefs is a matter of free speech. However, this can cross over to become a problem when differences are not respected and the cohesion of the group is threatened by religious rivalries and disputes. The military has a compelling interest in maintain such cohesion and Christians should support these regulations as best of for all concerned.

Religious programming is allowed to take place but the source of information about religious matters must come through the chaplains, as indicated by this 2011 memo on the regulation cited above:

airforceregsreligion

 

So all the talk about chaplains being unable to do their jobs is unfounded. They still cannot treat the military as a captive audience for their sect but they can offer information to those who seek it.

Alan Noble has some insightful commentary on a related story at Patheos.

  • Alan Chambers (@AlanMChambers)

    Thank you for being a voice of reason and a proverbial “inhaler” for those with religious asthma.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    Alan – Just so we’re clear, I didn’t inhale.

  • cassi

    So what I am getting from this is that they are trying to stop 2 things from happening:

    1) stop superiors from showing special treatment to like-minded soldiers

    2) keep everyone from getting their feelings hurt.

    Grow up. This is REAL life. Your feelings are gonna get hurt. There is always some sort of price to pay for having a beleif/conviction. Should they treat others with differing veiws badly? NO! But it happens and the government’s job is NOT to regulate the actions of anyone, unless it causes bodily harm or death.

  • John Wallach

    @Cassi

    “… the government’s job is NOT to regulate the actions of anyone, unless it causes bodily harm or death.”

    What manual did you pull that out of, or is this just a personal opinion? I shouldn’t have to remind you, in REAL life personal opinions are fine, but they don’t trump military regulations, despite what some military chaplains seem to think.

  • Nathan

    @cassi

    It’s the government’s job to provide for the common defense. We best do that with a military that works well together, and has good morale and unit cohesion. To that end the military prohibits soldiers using their grade and position to bully other soldiers over their religion or lack thereof. Who are you to dictate that its not the governments job to dictate how to develop a productive work environment for its own employees?

  • Boo

    Cassi- so when Mulism officers start pressuring the troops under their command to convert to Islam, that will be just fine with you?

  • Tom

    Look at all the disruption caused by evangelical Christians, who insist on bringing their lifestyle choice into our nation’s military. Why can’t evangelical soldiers just do their jobs and stop foisting their lifestyle on everyone around them? Since Christians were such big supporters of DADT, perhaps that would be the best solution here.

  • Tom Van Dyke

    MRFF’s Chris Rodda beclowns herself on the first hour of The Michael Medved Show

    listen for yourself–repeated every 3 hours Thursday May 2- Friday May 3 @

    http://tunein.com/radio/Michael-Medved-247-s159187/

    even worse than I thought y’d be, Chris. You couldn’t even get the rifle argument right, so then you changed the subject. Made David Barton look like Ken Jennings.

  • Nikki Wrenn

    I was until very recently (I left to pursue education full time) in the US Air Force. I’m an atheist but very interested in the study of religion from a cultural standpoint. I volunteered in the Chaplain’s office and went to an on base Navigators Bible study. While I don’t speak for the Air Force as a whole I can say that Christianity does have a special position in the military. Most Chaplains are Protestant Evangelical Christians. Prayers are “In Jesus name” even when they are suppose to be non-sectarian. Some Christians are attempting and succeeding in creating a persecution complex amongst their followers as a method of getting and maintaining support for their radical ideas. And it’s working. I understand and respect that Christians will attempt to evangelize, after all if you think you have something good and right: you want to share it, I do the same thing with atheism. But if someone asks you to not shae stop and try someone else, simple.

  • Bill Fortenberry

    I just heard from a friend of mine who is a military chaplain. He said that the DOD differentiates between proselytization and evanglization. Here is what he said:

    “I received an e-mail today from my endorser that had the DOD statement attached. Evangelization is okay, proselytization is not. Sharing your faith is fine and protected, harassing or coercing is not. The difference is generally understood. A few might wish to classify any sharing as harassment but most commanders have enough common sense to know the difference.”

  • Chris Rodda

    Yes … by all means, everybody please do listen to my appearance on Michael Medved’s show.

    By “couldn’t get the rifle argument right,” I assume Tom means that I said M-14 instead of M-1-4, leaving out the dash when referring to the utterly insignificant detail of which model of rifle the Bible verse gun scopes were on. I admit it Tom, I’m not a weapons expert, but I was closer than the caller who for whatever reason thought the model of the rifle was somehow relevant and incorrectly said they were M-16s.

    And by “changed the subject,” I assume Tom is referring to me saying that I’d like to get to some other examples after nearly half an hour of talking about the “Jesus rifles,” a subject that I had only intended to mention as one quick example, but Medved just wouldn’t get off of.

    So, please do go listen to the interview, everybody. I thought it went rather well for a right-wing show, despite what Tom (who ironically accuses me of “stalking” David Barton while apparently having taken to stalking me) wants you to think.

  • Patrocles

    Did Weinstein really say:

    ” Until the Air Force or Army or Navy or Marine Corps punishes a member of the military for unconstitutional religious proselytizing and oppression, we will never have the ability to stop this horrible, horrendous, dehumanizing behavior.”?

    And to what an event did he refer?

    That are the real interesting points of the story – not the Christensen statement (which would be completely harmless without the Weinstein connection).

    Do you believe that Weinstein refers to Evangelicals? Do you believe that Evangelicals are just now proselytizing in an oppressive and dehumanizing way and must be punished for that?

    Then let’s speak about this.

    As for the verbal distinction between (good) evangelizing and (bad) proselytizing – I’ve nothing against that, but don’t believe that such a mere verbal distinction is in any way a solution for the factual conflicts between divergent personal interests.

  • Chris Rodda

    Ptrocles … I completely agree that the verbal distinction between evangelizing and proselytizing is pretty much useless. It’s too subjective and most people really don’t know the difference between the two words. What we’re really talking about here is the difference between something being an appropriate level of religious discussion at a proper time and place and inappropriate coercion and harassment. Let me give you an example. If a peer wants to invite another peer to a Bible study, that is absolutely fine, although they should take no for an answer if the person says they’re not interested. It is not, on the other hand, appropriate for a superior to invite subordinates to a Bible study. This causes the subordinates to feel like they have to say yes because they fear that saying no might affect their superior’s opinion of them and have a negative effect on their career. This is a form of coercion and a misuse of power.

    What AFI 1-1, the regulation that keeps being brought up, does makes perfect sense. It makes all religious programs and announcements have to come from the chaplain’s office, and not through the command structure. Chaplains have rank but no command authority. A service member will not feel the pressure to attend a religious event if they get an email from the chaplain’s office that they would if they got an email from their “boss.” MRFF simply want the military to obey this regulation. This does not stop anyone from practicing their religion, contrary to what the lies coming from the right-wing media are saying.

    One of the lies being told about MRFF, for example, is that we got the Operation Christmas Child program canceled at the Air Force Academy. This is completely untrue. The program was not canceled. It was just put under the auspices of the chaplain’s office rather than the command structure. The Academy cadets were absolutely still allowed to participate in the program.

    I could give you a whole bunch more examples that would make anyone see that nobody is trying to take away anyone’s right to practice their religion. It’s just a matter of doing it in an appropriate manner that prevents any service member from being coerced and harassed, and worse in some cases, because of their personal beliefs. It’s called religious freedom.


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