Todd Starnes and the Pentagon Still Not Together on the Facts

Yesterday, Todd Starnes continued to make his case that the military is hostile to Christianity. He cited a couple of lawmakers who believe as he does and again cited the case of the Air Force officer who allegedly was asked to remove a Bible from his desk. Despite the fact that the Air Force issued a statement which indicates that religious materials may be visible on a desk, Starnes continues to focus only on information that supports his claims.

In his column, he repeated another inaccurate claim as indication that Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is behind what Starnes believes is military hostility to Christians.

The latest concerns came after Mikey Weinstein, head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation met with military officials at the Pentagon about an instructional guide on religious tolerance.


I asked Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen about this claim and informed me that Weinstein has had no involvement in constructing an instructional guide.  Air Force spokeswoman Lt. Col. Laurel Tingley confirmed it. If the Air Force issues such a guide, it will be based on a Air Force instruction 1-1 (read the instruction here). A brief summary of that instruction is restated in a memo written by Air Force General Norton Schwartz. The substance of that memo is below:




The essential point is that military leaders want religious programming to come from the chaplains and not from superior officers.  The purposes of this policy are to avoid the appearance of religious favoritism and to prevent a hostile work environment.

The facts are there but Mr. Starnes’ readers are not getting all of them.

On a related matter, Starnes also referred to Coast Guard Rear Admiral William Lee’s comments on religious freedom. You can watch his speech here. While Lee’s remarks are delivered with real conviction, I wonder how the audience would have reacted if Lee was a member of the Unification Church. In his speech, Lee referred to a meeting with a young veteran who survived a suicide attempt. About this meeting, Lee said

…the rules say send him to the chaplain, my heart said, give this man a Bible.

While most evangelicals would resonate with Lee’s heart, would they applaud if Lee’s heart had said, give this man a copy of Sun Myung Moon’s Divine Principle? Or, in contrast, would they wish that a Unificationist superior officer direct the chaplains to provide advice in keeping with the young man’s own religious beliefs?

Personally, my values favor more freedom than less so I am not as bothered by allowing people to speak their minds. However, I understand the reasons for these regulations and see how they can be beneficial as a means of respecting the religious views of all service members. Agree with the regulations or not, Starnes should report the situation fairly and let his audience decide.


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  • ken

    Starnes appears to be trying to prove that christians are being persecuted in this country. Mostly by misrepresenting stories involving christians. He also appears to be trying to use the language that minority groups that have been persecuted in the past (jews, muslims, gays etc) used to describe what happened to them.

    Several of Starnes’ recent articles have done that.

  • Tom Van Dyke

    The essential point is that military leaders want religious programming to come from the chaplains and not from superior officers.

    To which the evangelical replies, as reported by Adm. William Lee:

    “As one general so aptly put it – they expect us to check our religion in at the door – don’t bring that here,” Lee told the audience. “Leaders like myself are feeling the constraints of rules and regulations and guidance issued by lawyers that put us in a tighter and tighter box regarding our constitutional rights to express our religious faith.”

    Protestantism, specifically of the evangelical stripe, is not as clergy-driven as say, Roman Catholicism. The very conception of religion is at issue here–for the evangelical, The Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20

    19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

    means that each believer is an evangelist, that when it comes to spreading the Good News: there is no distinction between chaplains and soldiers in the Army of God.

    And that’s the name of this tune.

    Weinstein called for the military to enforce a regulation that he believes calls for the court martial of any service member who proselytizes.

    “Someone needs to be punished for this,” Weinstein told Fox News. “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.”

    Weinstein compared the act of proselytizing to rape.

    “It is a version of being spiritually raped and you are being spiritually raped by fundamentalist Christian religious predators,” he said.

    Oh, Jesus.

  • Les

    A military commanding officer may have men and women of half a dozen faiths under his legal control. It is absolutely unacceptable for any commander to push his or her religious convictions on legal subordinates. Do that off-duty time away from the unit. An officer lacking that level of self-discipline needs a civilian job.

    Gen. Washington understood that so banned anti-Catholic Guy Fawkes-type demonstrations in the Continental Army. As with many of Washington’s actions, that established the precedence for the U.S. military to this day.

    Such outrageous abuse of command authority was rare or non-existent during WWII and the Viet Nam War eras. It has popped up only since the 1980s. Surely there were many Evangelical Protestant commanders in the earlier generations, but they had the discipline to know the boundaries and not abuse their subordinates.

    I’m aware of a Battalion Commander in the 10th Mountain Division about a decade ago who required all his subordinate company commanders to join him in Protestant prayer sessions during routine Officers calls to coordinate activities. He seemed unaware that every company commander by chance was Catholic who did not appreciate the activity.