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Should Military Personnel Who Proselytize Face Court-Martial?

by Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell on May 11, 2013
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‘Open hostility’ to Christians in the U.S. Military: Gen. Boykin reacts to Pentagon court-martial claims” and “Pentagon: Religious Proselytizing is Not Permitted

Pentagon consults with activist who wants Christian military personnel prosecuted for sedition.

On April 23 Pentagon officials reportedly met with Michael Weinstein of the anti-Christian group Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) to discuss “Air Force Culture, Air Force Standards.” Weinstein claims that the military is packed with “fundamentalist Christian religious predators” who regularly violate the religious freedom of other military personnel. Weinstein equates the efforts of these Christians to share their faith with sedition and treason. Saying “someone needs to be punished for this,” Weinstein is demanding prosecutions by the hundreds to prevent a “tidal wave of fundamentalists” who “spiritually rape” their comrades in arms. Weinstein claims that Christians are causing widespread problems in the military, telling FoxNews, “It is a version of being spiritually raped and you are being spiritually raped by fundamentalist Christian religious predators.”

To get an idea of Weinstein’s idea of just what sort of Christians should be prosecuted, one need only look at his open hostility toward organizations like the Family Research Council (FRC), the American Family Association (AFA), and the Chaplains Alliance for Religious Liberty.” Weinstein claims these organizations that promote “family values” are “extremist” and “militant” and should be suppressed for their “rapacious reign of theocratic terror.”1

Soon after the meeting with Weinstein, Department of Defense Lieutenant Commander Nate Christensen issued a statement saying, “Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense” and implicitly threatening to court-martial military personnel who proselytize. “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. A firestorm of protest erupting in the wake of the meeting, Weinstein’s vitriolic comments, and this announcement has led to a new Pentagon statement termed “clarification” by some and “backtracking” by others.

Section 2.11 of the Air Force policy, which was published on August 7, 2012, requires “government neutrality regarding religion.” It states, “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.” Weinstein is not satisfied with current levels of enforcement and is convinced that droves of non-Christian military personnel are being oppressed by Christians violating the directive.

Expressing concern over the reported threats to the right of even military chaplains to provide spiritual counsel, Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, warned that such a policy would “significantly impact the religious liberties of Air Force personnel.” He added, “Saying that a service member cannot speak of his faith is like telling a service member he cannot talk about his spouse or children.” Unsure just how Weinstein’s meeting and the DOD statement might play out, Crews said, “I do not think the Air Force wants to ban personnel from protected religious speech, and I certainly hope that it is willing to listen to the numerous individuals and groups who protect military religious liberty without demonizing service members.”

Family Research Council (FRC) president Tony Perkins questioned the wisdom of the Pentagon in meeting with Weinstein concerning its policies. Perkins commented, “Why would military leadership be meeting with one of the most rabid atheists in America to discuss religious freedom in the military. That’s like consulting with China on how to improve human rights.” FRC launched a petition drive to urge American Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel “not to proceed with the purge of religion within the ranks called for by anti-Christian activists.”

The Pentagon has now issued a statement allowing “evangelization” but not “proselytizing.” Christensen now says, “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).” U.S. Army Lieutenant General (retired) Jerry Boykin, now FRC’s executive vice president, is concerned that the implicit vagueness of these Pentagon statements as well as the threat of court-martial already alluded to by the Pentagon will severely impact the religious freedom of American soldiers. This incident, along with other recent events suggesting an increasingly “open hostility” toward Christians is growing in the military, may cause military personnel to fear sharing their faith, lest their efforts to comfort and counsel be misconstrued and they be prosecuted as “enemies of the state.”

General Jerry Boykin wants to find out just what Pentagon officials may have told Weinstein. “We’d like to get a statement saying exactly what assurances Mikey Weinstein did get from the Air Force,” Boykin says. “So we’ll be satisfied as soon as they tell us either that Mikey Weinstein is lying or give us an account of what those assurances were so that we understand the depth of the issue and the depth of the problem.”

General Boykin is requesting a meeting with the Pentagon to discuss the issue. “If they will tell us that and give us the assurance that living their faith and sharing their faith is a protected right then we’ll be satisfied.” Certainly FRC and Boykin are opposed to religious coercion in the military and in all other venues. Speaking at a National Day of Prayer observance on Capitol Hill, U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral William D. Lee echoed their sentiments, warning of suppression of religious freedom in the military. Lee said, “I am not talking about proselytizing; I am vehemently against that. I’m talking about gently whispering the gospel.”2

Thanks to the first amendment to the Constitution, the United States government has no right to restrict religious speech. And American military personnel do not give up that right when they take an oath to defend the Constitution from enemies foreign and domestic.

Christians have been echoing the words of the apostles since the first century. When told not to speak anymore of Jesus Christ, “Peter and the other apostles answered and said: ‘We ought to obey God rather than men.’” Thanks to the first amendment to the Constitution, the United States government has no right to restrict religious speech. And American military personnel do not give up that right when they take an oath to defend the Constitution from enemies foreign and domestic.

Weinstein’s vitriolic remarks and the benign nature of the organizations he targets certainly do not support his contention that the military is full of people attempting to push their beliefs on others. His classification of “proselytizing” as sedition and treason with the force of “rape” clearly make him a most unhelpful source of information for the Department of Defense. Furthermore, his hyperbolic emotive terminology could easily be classified as “hate speech.” Concerned for the rights of all Americans—including those sworn to protect our Constitution—to speak freely of their faith and not to fear prosecution for doing so, we eagerly await the results of General Boykin’s fact-finding efforts and echo Tony Perkins’ sentiments in wondering just exactly what the Department of Defense hoped to accomplish by discussing its policy with someone like Weinstein.

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Footnotes

  1. www.huffingtonpost.com
  2. www.religionnews.com/2013/05/02/pentagon-refutes-reports-of-anti-christian-policies

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