The Family Research Council has reported a “growing hostility” to religion in the U.S. armed forces, including “concerted efforts to scrub the military of religious expression.”
“The climate of intimidation that began in the Air Force is bleeding over into every branch – leading even military chaplains to wonder about their security in referencing the Bible,” Family Research Council president Tony Perkins said July 9.
The D.C.-based Christian advocacy organization is part of a new coalition seeking to raise awareness of religious liberty issues in the military and to call for support for Rep. John Fleming's (R-La.) military religious freedom amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act.
The amendment would secure the rights of military members to act and speak on their religious beliefs.
Other coalition members include representatives of the American Family Association, Center for Military Readiness, Judicial Watch, Liberty Counsel, American Values, and International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers, among others.
Family Research Council's report, “A Clear and Present Danger: The Threat to Religious Liberty in the Military,” documents what Perkins called a “wave of hostility toward religious expression in the military.”
The report said that pressures to impose “a secular, anti-religious culture” on the U.S. military have “intensified tremendously” under President Barack Obama, noting numerous incidents of policy restricting Christian expression.
In January 2012, when the controversy over the HHS contraception and sterilization mandate first began, the archbishop of the Military Services archdiocese sent a letter to Catholic chaplains, asking them to read it to parishioners to encourage opposition to the mandate. The Secretary of the Army intervened, allowing the letter to be distributed but not read publicly, and only after a sentence was omitted.
In 2011, the Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland initially barred visitors from giving or using religious items during their visits. The policy was ended after objections from Congress.
A 20-year-old ethics course for nuclear missile officers led by a chaplain at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California was pulled for review in 2011 because of its use of Christian materials. These materials included texts from the Bible and texts related to Saint Augustine’s just war theory.
Christian prayers have been barred from some military funerals at the Houston National Cemetery. In July 2011, U.S. Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) said that he witnessed some volunteer Veterans of Foreign Wars honor guards being prohibited from referring to God.
A September 2011 memo from General Norton Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, told officers to avoid actual or apparent use of their position to promote their own religious beliefs, including open support of chaplain-run events.
Several prominent religious leaders have been disinvited from speaking events. In February 2010, Perkins was disinvited from addressing the National Prayer Luncheon at Andrews Air Force Base after he opposed the ban on open homosexuals serving in the military. Franklin Graham, son of the prominent Protestant minister Billy Graham, was disinvited from the Pentagon’s National Day of Prayer in May 2010 after criticizing Islam.
An Army Reserve training presentation given in Pennsylvania labeled Catholicism and evangelical Christianity as examples of religious extremism, alongside terrorist groups and the Ku Klux Klan.
The Family Research Council report said that such examples have a “chilling effect” and cause fears of “punishment and potential career destruction” among service members.
The report said that current Air Force policy has been significantly influenced by Mikey Weinstein, founder of the New Mexico-based Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Weinstein has charged that there was a “lusty and thriving religious intolerance” at the Air Force Academy, including senior officials who were indifferent to what Weinstein said is “bias” in favor of evangelical Christianity.
Though the Air Force initially countered his complaints and lawsuits, by 2009 Air Force leadership had become more sympathetic to his cause. Weinstein in 2010 said he had instant access to the Air Force Academy superintendent, Mike Gould. He has continued to meet with military leadership, contending that “proselytism” is an ongoing problem and “a national security threat,” Washington Post columnist Sally Quinn reports.
The Family Research Council’s report pointed instead to the positive place of religion in military life.
“The soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, and Coast Guardsmen who have been injured, wounded, and killed in defense of our country often have been very committed to their faith in God.”
“Should it be surprising that those who face serious injury and death so regularly might focus more consciously on matters of eternity?” the report asked.
“It seems only natural that the gravity of military life should lead to serious consideration of spiritual matters.”
Originally published at Catholic News Agency on 11 July 2013. Used by permission, all other rights reserved.