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Is the US Department of Defense/Pentagon/Obama Going to Court-Martial Christians?

Nothing brings out extremes in rhetoric quite like discussions centering on religion.

Brief Analysis
Following nearly two years of ‘in-house’ discussions regarding expressions of religion in the United States Uniformed Services, the president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation was called in to answer questions on why he felt courts-martial were called for in situations where subordinates felt their superior officers were proselytizing. Within a week, this has warped into his being ‘hired’ by the Obama administration and that the Pentagon was going to equate Christianity with treason. That the rules in question have not changed one iota seems to have been entirely missed.

By David M. White

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Court Martial Christians

Detailed Analysis
My grandfather used to tell me there were a few subjects you should never discuss in public forums:  politics, religion and sex.   I won’t go for the trifecta here, but it’ll be close….

In 2005, the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO was hit with allegations of religious intolerance and harassment;  analysis found that the allegations were true, but were more the result of the behavior and actions of individual officers and not a systemic issue.   Since that time, the armed services, and the Air Force in particular, has searched for that fine balance.  To this observer, that seems to have been a target that was almost, if not entirely, given a wide berth.  In September 2011, following the cancelation of an ethics course that was heavily laced with Biblical references,  Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz issued a servicewide memo cautioning officers against proselytizing  titled "Maintaining Government Neutrality Regarding Religion."  It was pretty straightforward, and comprised the basis for new policy directives that would be issued in the following year.  Naturally, it and the General had detractors claiming he was being too politically correct.

Fast forward a few months to February 2012 and the new head of the Defense Information Systems Agency holds a commander’s call with subordinate staff that included religious references.  And thus began Mikey Weinstein’s rhetoric calling for courts-martial for religious proselytization: “A DISA employee who witnessed the presentation spoke with Air Force Times under condition of anonymity… The employee said that he provided the presentation to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation… MRFF's founder and president, Mikey Weinstein, is calling for Hawkins to be court-martialed for violating his oath to the Constitution.”

By August 2012, Gen. Schwartz had prepared, and the U.S. Air Force had released, a new policy directive.  While largely consolidating and revising pre-existing policy, it did include specifics which included a number of sections that relate to the Air Force's attitude toward religion and religious beliefs of Air Force personnel: Chaplain.  The Chaplain Corps provides spiritual care and the opportunity for Air Force members and their families to exercise their constitutional right to the free exercise of religion.  This is accomplished through religious observances, pastoral care, and confidential counseling, and advising leadership on spiritual, ethical, moral, morale, core values, and religious accommodation issues.... Equal Opportunity (EO). The purpose of the EO program is to enhance unit cohesion, mission readiness, and mission accomplishment by ensuring equal treatment and employment opportunity for all members. The Air Force has a zero-tolerance policy towards unlawful discrimination of any kind, including sexual harassment.... Air Force members must not unlawfully discriminate against, harass, intimidate, or threaten another person on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age, disability, reprisal, or genetic information.....

2.11. Government Neutrality Regarding Religion. 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.  For example, they must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion.  Commanders or supervisors who engage in such behavior may cause members to doubt their impartiality and objectivity.  The potential result is a degradation of the unit’s morale, good order, and discipline.  Airmen, especially commanders and supervisors, must ensure that in exercising their right of religious free expression, they do not degrade morale, good order, and discipline in the Air Force or degrade the trust and confidence that the public has in the United States Air Force.

2.12. Free Exercise of Religion and Religious Accommodation. Supporting the right of free exercise of religion relates directly to the Air Force core values and the ability to maintain an effective team.

2.12.1. All Airmen are able to choose to practice their particular religion, or subscribe to no religious belief at all.  You should confidently practice your own beliefs while respecting others whose viewpoints differ from your own.

2.12.2. Your right to practice your religious beliefs does not excuse you from complying with directives, instructions, and lawful orders; however, you may request religious accommodation.  Requests can be denied based on military necessity.  Commanders and supervisors at all levels are expected to ensure that requests for religious accommodation are dealt with fairly....

3.3.1. Tattoos/Brands/Body Markings.  Members may not have or obtain tattoos, brands, or other markings anywhere on the body that are: obscene; commonly associated with gangs, extremist, and/or supremacist organizations; or that advocate sexual, racial, ethnic, or religious discrimination....

Now… back for a moment to Mr. Feinstein… calling Mr. Feinstein anti-Christian could be classified as a slight understatement.  Sort of like calling the Grand Canyon a largish ditch.  As noted above, he has been quite vocal on this situation since the February 2012 DISA presentation.    So as 2013 rolls in, and Mr. Weinstein hasn’t let go of this particular bone, the Pentagon relents and invites him over to hear him out on his complaints and hear his rationale on why he’s claiming courts-martial are due.  On one hand, he ain’t going away – might as well give him his audience.  On the other hand, if you’re trying to refine policy, don’t you need to get as many different points of view as possible? 
Naturally the ‘other side’ isn’t going to let that opportunity go unchallenged, so they come forth with rhetoric of their own.  If you can stretch the definition of rhetoric to include ‘egregious distortion of fact.’

To wit:
“…meeting with anti-Christian extremist Mikey Weinstein to develop court-martial procedures to punish Christians in the military who express or share their faith.”
“President Barack Obama’s civilian appointees who lead the Pentagon are confirming that the military will make it a crime--possibly resulting in imprisonment--for those in uniform to share their faith.”
“This would include chaplains…”
“…even on a one-to-one basis between close friends.”

The above statements range from intentional misrepresentations to outright falsehoods.

The issue is not about soldiers being able to freely exercise their religion, or even have discussions of faith. The issue is 'proselytizing' - and more specifically, the issue is higher ranking personnel using their position to coercively proselytize.  The issue is not specifically targeting servicemen of the Christian faith. It would also apply to those who practice Islamic faiths, Judaism or Church of Buffett, Orthodox.  The latter might also involve sex, so there – I managed to get all three topics in.

***And while we’re at it… while not directly related to the issue, there is the photo that was used on Breitbart’s page to illustrate the article.  The photo is from a series of AP photos taken by photojournalist Anja Niedringhaus. Pictured in the photo is Lance Cpl. Blas Trevino of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, who took a round to the stomach on June 11, 2011 near Sangin in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan.  

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Last updated: May 3, 2013
First published: May 3, 2013
By David M. White
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