The Pentagon’s recent vow to punish Christian evangelism among military members, along with an activist’s assertion that such behavior is treasonous, has prompted a legal team to offer to defend any member of the armed services persecuted for expressions of faith.
The Liberty Institute has announced the launch of its Armed Forces Religious Liberty hotline – (972) 941-4543 – along with a petition to support Christian members of the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force.
“The Pentagon released an appalling official statement that I didn’t believe at first, but unfortunately it’s true,” said Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of the organization. “They are about to implement a new policy under which any members of the military ‘caught’ talking about their Christian faith will be subject to court martial or imprisonment!”
Shackelford said his group is establishing the emergency hotline “to protect our armed forces members, who can call and get free legal representation when they are persecuted for their Christian faith.”
The team’s constitutional attorneys, some of whom served in the military, say they will provide a legal defense for men and women service members who contact them.
The online petition explains that the Obama administration “has declared that it will prosecute members of the U.S. Armed Forces if they dare to express their religious convictions.” It says the Pentagon policy was formulated “with the assistance of Mikey Weinstein, an anti-Christian activist who believes any service member who shares his faith is committing ‘treason,’ or an act of ‘spiritual rape.’”
The petition urges Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, to “use all your power and influence to rescind this unconstitutional policy.”
Liberty Institute just a few years ago successfully stopped Obama’s Department of Veterans Affairs from banning God at funerals in veterans’ cemeteries. In 2012, after 13 years of litigation, the attorneys, on behalf of the American Legion, restored the Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial Cross that honors the sacrifice of World War I veterans.
The institute now is engaged in a fight to prevent the ACLU from tearing down the historic Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial Cross that overlooks San Diego.
WND previously reported on the fight over the rights of members of the military to express their faith.
Retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, former Special Forces commander and now executive vice president of the Family Research Council, which was the target of a violent attack by a leftist last year, recently praised an officer for being willing to hand out a Bible.
Boykin was citing the bold statement by Coast Guard Rear Admiral William D. Lee at Thursday’s National Day of Prayer event in Washington.
Lee recalled a recent meeting with a young soldier who had tried to kill himself but survived the gunshot to his head.
Lee said he knew he needed to respond and he gave the soldier a Bible.
“The lawyers tell me that if I do that, I’m crossing the line. I’m so glad I’ve crossed that line so many times,” said the admiral, who received a standing ovation.
That statement, Boykin said, is worthy of admiration.
“Rear Admiral William Lee demonstrated real courage yesterday when he spoke at the National Day of Prayer event in the nation’s capital,” Boykin said.
“I have seen courage manifested in many ways, including the ultimate sacrifice of one’s life for one’s country, but this type of moral courage is becoming more and more rare,” said Boykin. “This is especially true as we live in an environment increasingly hostile toward religious expression.
“The kind of courage that the admiral displayed yesterday is a refreshing reminder that there are still courageous men in uniform. Rear Admiral Lee spoke of rules in the uniformed services that prevent Christians from sharing their faith and he pledged to continue to be open about his faith regardless of the pressure not to. He obviously knows that he has a constitutional right to share his faith unimpeded. Talking about Jesus Christ with interested friends and colleagues should be as natural and protected as talking about sports teams and the weather. That it is now under threat is simply un-American.”
The speech followed a Washington Post report that anti-Christian activists had met with senior Pentagon officials to press for the court-martial of Christians in the military who “promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion.”
The Post said the activists were given assurances that an instruction booklet on proselytizing would be forthcoming within the next few weeks.
According to FRC, since then, the Pentagon has issued several statements. But none has explained what assurances were offered in the meeting and, if none were offered, why the Pentagon has not made clear that anti-Christian activist Weinstein has misrepresented his relationship with the Air Force.
Several hundred thousand people have signed an FRC petition urging the Pentagon to scrub plans to censor religious beliefs.
WND reported the Pentagon announced military members who want to talk about their faith with other members have every right to do so, backtracking on a previous warning.
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 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 that the Department of Defense department “makes reasonable accommodations for all religions and celebrates the religious diversity of our service members.”
But he raised questions at the same time by writing, “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).”
The issue surfaced after Weinstein 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.”
Pentagon officials apparently were listening, as they later issued a statement: “Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense.”
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 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.”
Boykin said: “This has the potential to destroy military recruiting across the services as Americans realize that their faith will be suppressed by joining the military. 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.”
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 concluded: “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 last August, 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.
In an FBI interview, Corkins confessed he wanted to "kill as many people as I could."