The Pentagon announced today that military members who want to talk about their faith with other members have every right to do so, backtracking on a previous warning against “proselytizing,” which it said could be subject to court-martial.
The statement from Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen said the Department of Defense “never and will never single out a particular religious group for persecution or prosecution.”
The Pentagon walked back its statement earlier this week after the Alliance Defending Freedom filed a Freedom of Information Act request for records relating to Pentagon statements on the issue.
“Members of our military should not be denied the very freedoms they fight to defend. Freedom of religion and speech are paramount among those freedoms,” said ADF Legal Counsel Joseph La Rue. “We appreciate the Pentagon’s clarification, but little or no evidence exists of coercive proselytization in the military, so we are still troubled over what motivated the original comments.
The Pentagon’s Christensen said in the statement today that the Department of Defense “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),” he said.
Christensen said that 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,” he said.
The Department of Defense, Christensen said, 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.”
He said 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.”
The issue surfaced after activist Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religion Freedom organization met with department officials and then wrote that Christians in the military are “monsters” who must be stopped from talking about their faith.
Weinstein had declared: “We face incredibly well-funded gangs of fundamentalist Christian monsters who terrorize their fellow Americans by forcing their weaponized and twisted version of Christianity upon their helpless subordinates in our nation’s armed forces.”
In an interview with Fox News, Weinstein said the military needs to begin prosecuting Christians who share their faith.
“Someone needs to be punished for this,” he 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.”
It seemed the military was listening.
After a private meeting between Weinstein and Pentagon officials April 23, a Pentagon spokesman declared, “Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense.”
Christensen said at the time that “courts martial 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.”
ADF’s LaRue said his organization is serious about “investigating this gross error,” because it wants “to ensure that the Pentagon does not deny members of the armed services the basic freedoms that the Constitution guarantees all Americans.”
Weinstein, according to Fox News’ Todd Starnes, told officials at the meeting that U.S. troops who evangelize are guilty of sedition and treason and should be punished, by the hundreds if necessary.
But leaders of the Washington-based Family Research Council, which recently faced a violent attack by a leftist who said his goal was to kill as many people as he could, said the Pentagon’s apparent intent to punish evangelism makes no sense.
“Why would military leadership be meeting with one of the most rabid atheists in America to discuss religious freedom in the military,” asked FRC President Tony Perkins in a Fox News interview. “That’s like consulting with China on how to improve human rights.”
Retired Lt. Gen. William Boykin, a vice president at FRC, said such a policy would allow Christians within the military who speak of their faith to be “prosecuted as enemies of the state.”
“This has the potential to destroy military recruiting across the services as Americans realize that their faith will be suppressed by joining the military,” Boykin said.
“Our brave troops deserve better. If chaplains and other personnel are censored from offering the full solace of the Gospel, there is no religious freedom in the military.”
FRC launched a petition urging the Pentagon to scrub plans to censor religious beliefs.
The FRC petition states: “Our brave troops deserve better. Subverting the religious freedom of our troops both hurts the morale of our troops and puts our nation at risk by labeling courageous military personnel as enemies.
“I urge you to resist the demands of anti-Christian activists who are calling for a court-martial order upon chaplains and service members who share their faith,” the petition says.
Tens of thousands of Americans joined the effort, which was brought about, according to FRC, because of claims that “religion is one of the chief problems plaguing our troops.”
Some have said, FRC points out, that “religious proselytizing” is “at the top of the list of problems in the armed forces – even on par with sexual assault.”
The FRC noted the Washington Post reported that the Air Force had created a document “with the directive that leaders of all levels (including chaplains) may not ‘promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion.’”
Ron Crews of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty told Starnes: “Saying that a service member cannot speak of his faith is like telling a service member he cannot talk about his spouse or children. I do not think the Air Force wants to ban personnel from protected religious speech.”
However, Weinstein told the Washington Post that such conversation is a national security threat and “sedition and treason.”
Ken Klukowski, a senior fellow for religious liberty at FRC, noted that Weinstein cites Focus on the Family founder James Dobson as “illustrating the extremist, militant nature of these virulently homophobic organizations’ rhetorically charged propaganda.”
Weinstein concludes: “Let’s call these ignoble actions what they are: the senseless and cowardly squallings of human monsters.”
Kulkowski pointed out that Weinstein endorses the Southern Poverty Law Center, which publishes a list of “hate groups” that lump together Christian organizations such as FRC with the Ku Klux Klan.
As WND reported, the man who shot a security guard at FRC headquarters, Floyd Lee Corkins II, confessed that he targeted FRC because of information provided by SPLC.
Asked by the FBI why he picked FRC to attack, Corkins stated, “It was a, uh, Southern Poverty Law, lists, uh, anti-gay groups. I found them online. I did a little bit of research, went to the website, stuff like that.”
FRC said that when Corkins later pleaded guilty to a charge of domestic terrorism, the SPLC “was connected in federal court in this first domestic terrorism conviction in Washington, D.C., under the post 9/11 law.”
SPLC has refused FRC’s demand to remove the Christian organization from the hate list.
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In an FBI interview, Corkins confessed he wanted to “kill as many people as I could.”
The U.S. government utilization of opinions endorsed by the SPLC is demonstrated in a number of ways, including the fact that the U.S. Army Reserve recently was found to be using a training brief that slams Catholics and evangelical Christians.
Members of Congress were outraged.
“Our nation needs to have an honest conversation about religious extremism and what we can do to avoid religious violence. However, labeling these major world religions as extremists is wrong and hurtful,” said a letter by Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., that was signed by dozens of other members.
The letter was addressed to Army Secretary John. M . McHugh at the Pentagon.
“We call on you to rescind this briefing and set the record straight on the Army’s view on these faith groups by providing a balanced briefing on religious extremism,” the lawmakers said.