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:
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.