The Military's Policy on Proselytizing Is Not New and Is Consistent with Federal Law

Some have suggested that the military’s policy on religious proselytizing is new and perhaps tied to a meeting held recently with Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and Pentagon leaders. However, this is incorrect. According to DoD spokesman Nate Christensen, the Department of Defense regulations stem from compliance with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations which govern the civilian workforce. By DoD directive 1020.02, the military provides protections to service members at the same level as for civilian employees.
In this case, the relevant EEOC directive is 915.003. Dated August 22, 2008, these guidelines provided examples of appropriate religious accommodations. In addition, guidelines relating to proselytizing are provided. Here is the introduction to the section on proselytizing:

Some employees may seek to display religious icons or messages at their work stations. Others may seek to proselytize by engaging in one-on-one discussions regarding religious beliefs, distributing literature, or using a particular religious phrase when greeting others. Still others may seek to engage in prayer at their work stations or to use other areas of the workplace for either individual or group prayer or study. In some of these situations, an employee might request accommodation in advance to permit such religious expression. In other situations, the employer will not learn of the situation or be called upon to consider any action unless it receives complaints about the religious expression from either other employees or customers. As noted in §§ II-A-3 and III-C of this document, prayer, proselytizing, and other forms of religious expression do not solely raise the issue of religious accommodation, but may also raise disparate treatment or harassment issues.
To determine whether allowing or continuing to permit an employee to pray, proselytize, or engage in other forms of religiously oriented expression in the workplace would pose an undue hardship, employers should consider the potential disruption, if any, that will be posed by permitting this expression of religious belief.[196] As explained below, relevant considerations may include the effect such expression has had, or can reasonably be expected to have, if permitted to continue, on co-workers, customers, or business operations.

Additional guidelines are relevant to the DoD instructions. For instance, under “unwelcome conduct”, the guidelines read:

To be unlawful, harassing conduct must be unwelcome. Conduct is “unwelcome” when the employee did not solicit or incite it and regards it as undesirable or offensive.[84] It is necessary to evaluate all of the surrounding circumstances to determine whether or not particular conduct or remarks are unwelcome.[85] For example, where an employee is upset by repeated mocking use of derogatory terms or comments[86] about his religious beliefs or observance by a colleague, it may be evident that the conduct is unwelcome. This would stand in stark contrast to a situation where the same two employees were engaged in a consensual conversation that involves a spirited debate of religious views, and neither employee indicates that he was upset by it.
The distinction between welcome and unwelcome conduct is especially important in the religious context in situations involving proselytizing of employees who have not invited such conduct.[87] Where a religious employee attempts to persuade a non-religious employee of the correctness of his belief, or vice versa, the conduct may or may not be welcome. When an employee objects to particular religious expression, unwelcomeness is evident.[88]
Unwelcome Conduct
Beth’s colleague, Bill, repeatedly talked to her at work about her prospects for salvation. For several months, she did not object and discussed the matter with him. When he persisted even after she told him that he had “crossed the line” and should stop having non-work related conversations with her, the conduct was clearly unwelcome.[89]

The DoD has committed to provide their service members with same legal protections as civilian employees. In this case, the guidance was issued long before the current controversy and has nothing to do with a meeting with Mikey Weinstein or a desire to purge Christians from the military. The guidance is designed to protect the rights of people of all faiths.
Related Posts:
Is the Military Preparing to Court Martial Christians?
On the Military and Religious Proselytizing: Military Spokesman’s Original Comments Used Out of Context
Department of Defense Statement on Religious Proselytizing

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?