A coalition of conservative leaders and congressmen gathered on Capitol Hill July 9 to lend their support to an amendment, offered in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), that is designed to protect the religious freedoms of U.S. military personnel. The effort was led by the Family Research Council, which recently released a report documenting incidents of hostility toward religious expression in the military.
FRC President Tony Perkins noted that an ongoing campaign of intimidation against religious freedoms, which was initially launched against the Air Force in 2004 by atheist attorney Mikey Weinstein, is now “bleeding over into every branch — leading even military chaplains to wonder about their security in referencing the Bible.”
Perkins said that in a military culture where evangelical Christians are increasingly being targeted as extremists, “the pressure to impose a secular culture on our nation's military has intensified tremendously during President Obama's time as commander-in-chief. His administration, whose primary goal seems to be opposing Americans' conscience rights, is continuing that attack on a military culture defined by a long tradition of faith.”
The NDAA religious freedom amendment (Section 530), offered by Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), would expand the “protection of rights of conscience of members of the Armed Forces and chaplains,” according to language in the amendment, giving them the freedom both to speak and act in accordance with their beliefs.
Speaking at the press conference, Rep. Fleming said that “there’s a long list of things that have been happening in very recent years that for those who do the most for us — uniformed members — who put their lives on the line and who have done that over 237 years, those who have fought for our religious liberties the most are the ones today who are having those very liberties taken from them.”
Among the long list of documented attacks against religious liberty in the military offered in the FRC report:
• In 2010 the FRC's Tony Perkins was disinvited from a military event where he was scheduled to speak after he came out publicly against Obama's efforts to overturn the “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” policy banning homosexuals from serving in uniform. Similarly, in 2010 noted evangelist Franklin Graham was disinvited from the Pentagon’s National Day of Prayer Service after he criticized Islam over its treatment of women.
• In 2011 officials at the National Cemetery in Houston banned Christian prayers at funeral services for military personnel, a policy that was lifted only after intense effort by veterans groups and conservative lawmakers.
• An ethics course that had been part of the training for nuclear missile officers at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base for 20 years was pulled from the curriculum because of Christian content.
• In 2011 Walter Reed National Military Medical Center issued an official patient and visitor policy stating: “No religious items (i.e. Bibles, reading material, and/or artifacts) are allowed to be given away or used during a visit.” The policy was rescinded only after a political firestorm erupted in the House of Representatives.
• In 2012, a Pennsylvania Army Reserve Equal Opportunity training brief on extremism included “Evangelical Christianity” and “Catholicism,” as examples of religious extremism, along with al-Qaeda, Hamas, Islamophobia, and the Ku Klux Klan.
• In 2013 an Air Force officer was forced to remove a copy of the Bible from his desk. Fox News reported that the “officer was told he could no longer keep a Bible on his desk because it [might] appear that he was condoning a particular religion.”
Ron Crews of Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, who also spoke at the press conference, said that his group “continues to receive reports from military personnel who are concerned their religious liberties are being infringed, even as they offer their lives to protect the religious liberty of all Americans.” He emphasized that Rep. Fleming's amendment to the NDAA “is necessary because it appears that some in the Department of Defense mistakenly understand religious liberty to protect only one’s beliefs, rather than the resulting actions and speech based on one’s beliefs. Yet to believe is to live out your beliefs, to express your beliefs.”
He noted that the amendment's language is “carefully worded to respect good order and discipline while protecting religious liberty of our men and women in uniform.”
At the press conference the coalition introduced a new website, www.militaryfreedom.org, designed to offer support and advice to military personnel who feel their religious freedoms have been attacked.
In addition to the FRC and the Chaplain Alliance, organizations involved in the coalition include the Center for Security Policy, Media Research Center, Judicial Watch, American Family Association, Liberty Counsel, American Values, Family-Pac Federal, Patriotic Veterans, Center for Military Readiness, American Civil Rights Union, and the International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers.