On the Military and Religious Proselytizing: Military Spokesman’s Original Comments Used Out of Context

On April 30, Todd Starnes cited Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen on military policy regarding religious proselytizing:

The Pentagon confirmed to Fox News that Christian evangelism is against regulations.

“Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense, LCDR Nate Christensen said in a written statement. He declined to say if any chaplains or service members had been prosecuted for such an offense.

“Court martials and non-judicial punishments are decided on a case-by-case basis and it would be inappropriate to speculate on the outcome in specific cases,” he said.

Using these comments, Starnes made a case that the military was preparing to court martial Christians who openly speak about their beliefs. However, there was more to the quote than Starnes printed. Late yesterday, Lt. Cmdr. Christensen provided the entire response he gave to Starnes when first asked about the military policy on sharing one’s faith. While I don’t have the questions Christensen was asked, here is the statement Christensen gave to Fox News:

“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.

Court martials and non-judicial punishment are decided on case-by-case basis and it would be inappropriate to speculate on the outcome in specific cases.

However, religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense.”

Do you see what Starnes did there? He left out the longer section of Christensen’s answer that affirmed “free access of religion for all members of the military services.” Then he reversed the order of the quotes to make it seem as though the outcome of religious proselytizing cases would be court martial. In fact, Christensen stated the obvious fact that the goal of the DoD is for the punishment to fit the crime, whatever it is. Religious proselytizing, though not permitted, will not necessarily result in the harshest punishments, unless circumstances warrant that penalty. Starnes is not completely wrong but he left out information that would have provided a more accurate picture of the situation.

Todd Starnes was on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show last night and they linked the two statements together out of the original sequence as presented by the DoD spokesman.

Another false aspect being reported (last night on Hannity) is that the Pentagon is walking back from an earlier position. According to Christensen, this is not true. He confirmed that there is nothing new in these regulations and that a ban on proselytizing (coercion) was in place before the recent controversy.

Even if the first statement had been reported in total, I can imagine that many people would have wanted clarification of terms. What is proselytizing exactly and what is acceptable sharing of faith? These are reasonable questions that the DoD addressed in yesterday’s statement. However, the worries over Christians being vulnerable to court martial just for speaking about their beliefs were over the top.

For the most recent DoD statement on religious proselytizing, go here. At that link, you can also see the DoD statement on Mikey Weinstein’s alleged influence on the recent regulations. Starnes said in his April 30 post, that the DoD was “vetting” regulations with Weinstein. According to the DoD, this dramatically overstates the importance of Weinstein’s meeting at the Pentagon. In short, the regulations on religious proselytizing were in place long before the recent meeting with Weinstein.

Related post:

Is the Military Preparing to Court Martial Christians?

 

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  • Lynn David

    It’s either propaganda or they hear it the way they reprint it out of their own paranoia or martyr complexes. Seems to be a lot of that going on in conservative circles these days.

  • Scotty G.

    “The Pentagon confirmed to Fox News that Christian evangelism is against regulations.”

    Worse then omitting/altering the full quote, it seems like Starnes doesn’t know the difference between evangelizing and proselytizing. And if he does then he’s a bold face liar, since Christensen’s statement said nothing about evangelizing.

    But it did make for a ‘reaction provoking’ headline.

    So much for Fox News being a ‘beacon in the darkness’…

  • Fuzzy

    Were the original remarks by Lt. Cmdr. Christensen made via writing, or verbally? If verbal, was a recording made?

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

    Fuzzy – In writing via email.

  • Allan

    It has been more than fifty years since I was in the USArmy. Certainly proselytizing would have always been out of place and disruptive to army life; on the other hand, will it now be forbidden to invite a buddy to your own particular chapel? Can anyone assure how these regulations will be enforced.

  • ken

    Allan asked:

    May 3, 2013 at 11:23 am

    “will it now be forbidden to invite a buddy to your own particular chapel? ”

    No it won’t be. Chris Rodda posted about that on here

  • ABratt

    Yesterday I noticed that Tim Wildmon of AFA fame had anounced on his new web site that he had requested an investigation through (R) Sen. Roger Wicker of Tupelo, MS of the pentagon incident. I plan to ask Wicker for a complete record of his investigation, assuming he does one for his friend at the AFA. I am a constituent of Wicker’s MS District. Sen. Wicker and Wildmon are very close, like two peas in a pod. They are both right-wing extremists in my book.

  • Timothy Kincaid

    I’m finding it difficult to consider compulsive bearers of false witness as being particularly Christian.

  • Tom Van Dyke

    Dang, Timothy, I’ve never heard them say a bad word about you!