For most Americans it is unconscionable that our military warriors would be denied the very freedom they fight to protect. Yet repeated attacks on expression of faith is exactly what the members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus find alarming.
Rep. Randy Forbes, R-VA, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, recently told the National Catholic Register, “There have been an increasing number of events, that when taken together, demonstrate a pattern of hostility towards religious freedom in the military.” Forbes said that he is concerned over these incidents cultivating “a culture of silence” which he called a “subtle, but significant threat to religious freedom in the military.“ Said the Virginia congressman, “It is dangerous to cultivate an environment that implicitly or explicitly communicates to people of faith that they have the freedom to believe what they wish, but that those beliefs should not be reflected in the way they live their personal and professional lives.”
In an April 2013 letter the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty outlined numerous instances where the military has curtailed religious expression for service members and chaplains:
- A service member received a severe and possibly career-ending reprimand from his commanding officer for respectfully expressing his faith’s religious position in a personal religious blog;
- An Air Force officer kept a Bible on his desk along with other personal items for 18 years. When he transferred to his latest assignment he was told by his supervisor that he could not keep his Bible in public view, that it may “offend” someone if they saw it;
- Thousands of soldiers received equal opportunity training labeling “Evangelical Christians,” “Catholics,” and “Ultra-Orthodox [Jews]” as “Religious Extremis[ts]” comparable to the KKK and Al Qaeda. This training, which was memorialized in writing, further instructed the service members that they may not “support” such “Extremist Organizations” by attending meetings, fund-raising, recruiting, helping lead or organize, or distributing literature. In other words, thousands of soldiers were told that they could not go to church, lead Sunday School, tithe, share their faith, or give out Bibles;
- An enlisted service member was threatened and denied promotion by a senior non-commissioned officer for expressing—during a personal conversation—his religious belief in support of traditional marriage.
In a March 2013 JAG memorandum, the Air Force clearly showed that the military is interpreting Section 533 in a strained fashion: “the plain language of Section 533 pertains to the accommodation of beliefs . . . [a]ctions and speech, however, are distinct from beliefs, and may serve as bases for administrative and punitive action.” Effectively saying that faith is only what you believe NOT what you do based on what you believe.
Recognizing the grave threat, Congressman Fleming has introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to ensure religious freedom for service members and chaplains. Congressman Fleming stated in a press release,“My amendment protects, for our men and women in uniform, a principle enshrined in our Constitution and cherished since our Founding Fathers: the free exercise of one’s religious beliefs, including expressions of one’s belief. …We need to protect the free speech of the brave warriors who fight to safeguard our liberties…”
The Amendment has passed through House Armed Services Committee and similar Amendment introduced by Congressman Mike Lee has passed the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Even with ample evidence to the contrary, the current Administration commented that the religious freedom protections included in the new National Defense Authorization Act were “unnecessary and ill-advised”. In addition, advisors to the President recommended he veto the Religious Liberty Amendment.
Pray for these issues, our leadership, and all branches of the military. Our military risk their lives to protect our freedom, let’s do our part to protect theirs.