Pentagon again addresses rumors of crackdown on Christians

Yesterday, the Pentagon issued another statement regarding the rumors of a crackdown on religious speech. The Hill picked up on the comments and I have the Department of Defense statement here. In response to queries from various sources, Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen sent along the following comments:

EEOC rules do not apply to military personnel.
There is no DOD wide policy that directly addresses religious proselytizing.  Furthermore, there is no effort within the department to make religious proselytizing a specific offense within the UCMJ, including under Article 134.
Service members may exercise their rights under the 1st Amendment regarding the free exercise of religion unless doing so adversely affects good order, discipline, or some other aspect of the military mission; even then, the Department seeks a reasonable religious accommodation for the service member.   In general, service members may share their faith with other service members, but may not forcibly attempt to convert others of any faith or no faith to their own beliefs.
Concerns about these issues are handled on a case by case basis by the leaders of the unit involved.

Again, these comments distinguish between proselytizing and simply speaking about one’s religious views. Even Rear Admiral William Lee, who has been quoted at length recently by right-of-center groups, said he opposes proselytizing (at the end of this speech). The issue and has always been about using one’s position or other means of coercion to impose beliefs or expectations of religious behavior.
Although not bound by EEOC rules, the DoD has responded to concerns about workplace conditions which create a hostile environment and to provide accommodations when necessary to allow first amendment freedoms while maintaining order and cohesion in the ranks.
 
 
 

Todd Starnes and the Pentagon Still Not Together on the Facts

Yesterday, Todd Starnes continued to make his case that the military is hostile to Christianity. He cited a couple of lawmakers who believe as he does and again cited the case of the Air Force officer who allegedly was asked to remove a Bible from his desk. Despite the fact that the Air Force issued a statement which indicates that religious materials may be visible on a desk, Starnes continues to focus only on information that supports his claims.
In his column, he repeated another inaccurate claim as indication that Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is behind what Starnes believes is military hostility to Christians.

The latest concerns came after Mikey Weinstein, head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation met with military officials at the Pentagon about an instructional guide on religious tolerance.
 

I asked Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen about this claim and informed me that Weinstein has had no involvement in constructing an instructional guide.  Air Force spokeswoman Lt. Col. Laurel Tingley confirmed it. If the Air Force issues such a guide, it will be based on a Air Force instruction 1-1 (read the instruction here). A brief summary of that instruction is restated in a memo written by Air Force General Norton Schwartz. The substance of that memo is below:
airforceregsreligion
 
 
The essential point is that military leaders want religious programming to come from the chaplains and not from superior officers.  The purposes of this policy are to avoid the appearance of religious favoritism and to prevent a hostile work environment.
The facts are there but Mr. Starnes’ readers are not getting all of them.
On a related matter, Starnes also referred to Coast Guard Rear Admiral William Lee’s comments on religious freedom. You can watch his speech here. While Lee’s remarks are delivered with real conviction, I wonder how the audience would have reacted if Lee was a member of the Unification Church. In his speech, Lee referred to a meeting with a young veteran who survived a suicide attempt. About this meeting, Lee said

…the rules say send him to the chaplain, my heart said, give this man a Bible.

While most evangelicals would resonate with Lee’s heart, would they applaud if Lee’s heart had said, give this man a copy of Sun Myung Moon’s Divine Principle? Or, in contrast, would they wish that a Unificationist superior officer direct the chaplains to provide advice in keeping with the young man’s own religious beliefs?
Personally, my values favor more freedom than less so I am not as bothered by allowing people to speak their minds. However, I understand the reasons for these regulations and see how they can be beneficial as a means of respecting the religious views of all service members. Agree with the regulations or not, Starnes should report the situation fairly and let his audience decide.
 

Citing historical errors, FRC leader removes David Barton's Capitol Tour video from You Tube

Yesterday, I learned that Kenyn Cureton, VP at Family Research Council, removed from view David Barton’s Capitol Tour video. The YouTube video was made private on Dr. Cureton’s You Tube account which means that it will not show up in search results or via link. The video advertised the Watchman Pastors aspect of FRC’s work and had over 4 million views. The video had been a source of contention here and among 33 Christian historians who recently made FRC aware of their concerns.
I commend Dr. Cureton and FRC for removing the video which contained several clear errors in a short span of time. On that video, Barton said that Congress printed the first English Bible in America for the use of public schools and that 29 out the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence had Bible school or seminary degrees.  Among other stories, Barton also repeated his contention that Jefferson sent missionaries to evangelize the Kaskaskia Indians. None of these claims are true.

FRCvideoprivate

Summary: Religious Proselytizing and the Military

Update: The Blaze came out with an extensive look at this issue on May 8 which cites several of posts from this blog.
On May 1, PolitiFact came out with a useful summary of the recent controversy over religious proselytizing and the military. The writers evaluated the claim that the military was soon going to court martial Christians. At the end of the analysis, they labeled the claim “Mostly False.” Politifact noted the reason the claim was mostly false and not completely false: “Still, there’s a sliver of truth — if you believe your Christian faith compels you to try to convert others in a way people find harassing, it’s possible you could face court-martial, though such a thing has yet to happen.”
The article is useful because it lays out in one place what I took several posts to develop. As a summary of recent events, I have links to all of those posts.
Is the Military Preparing to Court Martial Christians?
On the Military and Religious Proselytizing: Military Spokesman’s Original Comments Used Out of Context
The Military’s Policy on Proselytizing Is Not New and Is Consistent with Federal Law Politifact did not mention this part of the story – The DoD is following guidance of the EEOC, applying to military personnel the protections enjoyed by civilian workers.
Department of Defense Statement on Religious Proselytizing
Air Force Statement on Religious Proselytizing and Religious Materials on Desks (In contrast to the isolated case of a service member being asked to remove a Bible from his desk)
 

Air Force Statement on Religious Proselytizing and Religious Materials on Desks

UPDATE: In contrast to reports of an Air Force officer being told to remove a Bible from his desk, Air Force spokesperson Laurel Tingley told me that Air Force personnel are allowed to have religious materials in their desks. In answer to my question about the unnamed Air Force officer and his Bible, Tingley said in an email, “While we cannot verify this story, I can tell you that military members are allowed to have religious materials on their desks.”
Ron Crews of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty wrote to say that he is the source for the story Starnes reported. He said a veteran officer contacted him to say a superior office told him to remove the Bible from sight due to a complaint. If true, the incident sound like the work of an overzealous superior officer. However, it appears that the Air Force policy is to allow such materials to be in view on a desk. To me, it seems like a statement from an Air Force spokesperson should carry at least as much weight than an incident involving one member. If one member having a bad experience is worth a headline, it seems to me that an assurance from an official spokesperson should be worth one as well.
……………. (original post)
This statement was just sent to me by Lt. Col. Laurel Tingley on behalf of the Air Force:

“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).  If a service member harasses another member on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, or disability, then the commander takes action based on the gravity of the occurrence.  Likewise, when religious harassment complaints are reported, commanders take action based on the gravity of the occurrence on a case by case basis.
The Air Force is dedicated to creating an environment in which people can realize their highest potential without any consideration of one’s personal religious or other beliefs. We work to ensure that Airmen are free to exercise their Constitutional right to practice their religion — in a manner that is respectful of other individuals’ rights to follow their own belief systems; and in ways that are conducive to good order and discipline; and that do not detract from accomplishing the military mission.”

This is very much like the DoD statement and draws a distinction between simply speaking about one’s faith and coercion.
Related Posts:
Is the Military Preparing to Court Martial Christians?
On the Military and Religious Proselytizing: Military Spokesman’s Original Comments Used Out of Context
The Military’s Policy on Proselytizing Is Not New and Is Consistent with Federal Law
Department of Defense Statement on Religious Proselytizing

The Military's Policy on Proselytizing Is Not New and Is Consistent with Federal Law

Some have suggested that the military’s policy on religious proselytizing is new and perhaps tied to a meeting held recently with Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and Pentagon leaders. However, this is incorrect. According to DoD spokesman Nate Christensen, the Department of Defense regulations stem from compliance with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations which govern the civilian workforce. By DoD directive 1020.02, the military provides protections to service members at the same level as for civilian employees.
In this case, the relevant EEOC directive is 915.003. Dated August 22, 2008, these guidelines provided examples of appropriate religious accommodations. In addition, guidelines relating to proselytizing are provided. Here is the introduction to the section on proselytizing:

Some employees may seek to display religious icons or messages at their work stations. Others may seek to proselytize by engaging in one-on-one discussions regarding religious beliefs, distributing literature, or using a particular religious phrase when greeting others. Still others may seek to engage in prayer at their work stations or to use other areas of the workplace for either individual or group prayer or study. In some of these situations, an employee might request accommodation in advance to permit such religious expression. In other situations, the employer will not learn of the situation or be called upon to consider any action unless it receives complaints about the religious expression from either other employees or customers. As noted in §§ II-A-3 and III-C of this document, prayer, proselytizing, and other forms of religious expression do not solely raise the issue of religious accommodation, but may also raise disparate treatment or harassment issues.
To determine whether allowing or continuing to permit an employee to pray, proselytize, or engage in other forms of religiously oriented expression in the workplace would pose an undue hardship, employers should consider the potential disruption, if any, that will be posed by permitting this expression of religious belief.[196] As explained below, relevant considerations may include the effect such expression has had, or can reasonably be expected to have, if permitted to continue, on co-workers, customers, or business operations.

Additional guidelines are relevant to the DoD instructions. For instance, under “unwelcome conduct”, the guidelines read:

To be unlawful, harassing conduct must be unwelcome. Conduct is “unwelcome” when the employee did not solicit or incite it and regards it as undesirable or offensive.[84] It is necessary to evaluate all of the surrounding circumstances to determine whether or not particular conduct or remarks are unwelcome.[85] For example, where an employee is upset by repeated mocking use of derogatory terms or comments[86] about his religious beliefs or observance by a colleague, it may be evident that the conduct is unwelcome. This would stand in stark contrast to a situation where the same two employees were engaged in a consensual conversation that involves a spirited debate of religious views, and neither employee indicates that he was upset by it.
The distinction between welcome and unwelcome conduct is especially important in the religious context in situations involving proselytizing of employees who have not invited such conduct.[87] Where a religious employee attempts to persuade a non-religious employee of the correctness of his belief, or vice versa, the conduct may or may not be welcome. When an employee objects to particular religious expression, unwelcomeness is evident.[88]
EXAMPLE 18
Unwelcome Conduct
Beth’s colleague, Bill, repeatedly talked to her at work about her prospects for salvation. For several months, she did not object and discussed the matter with him. When he persisted even after she told him that he had “crossed the line” and should stop having non-work related conversations with her, the conduct was clearly unwelcome.[89]

The DoD has committed to provide their service members with same legal protections as civilian employees. In this case, the guidance was issued long before the current controversy and has nothing to do with a meeting with Mikey Weinstein or a desire to purge Christians from the military. The guidance is designed to protect the rights of people of all faiths.
Related Posts:
Is the Military Preparing to Court Martial Christians?
On the Military and Religious Proselytizing: Military Spokesman’s Original Comments Used Out of Context
Department of Defense Statement on Religious Proselytizing

On the Military and Religious Proselytizing: Military Spokesman's Original Comments Used Out of Context

On April 30, Todd Starnes cited Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen on military policy regarding religious proselytizing:

The Pentagon confirmed to Fox News that Christian evangelism is against regulations.
“Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense, LCDR Nate Christensen said in a written statement. He declined to say if any chaplains or service members had been prosecuted for such an offense.
“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.

Using these comments, Starnes made a case that the military was preparing to court martial Christians who openly speak about their beliefs. However, there was more to the quote than Starnes printed. Late yesterday, Lt. Cmdr. Christensen provided the entire response he gave to Starnes when first asked about the military policy on sharing one’s faith. While I don’t have the questions Christensen was asked, here is the statement Christensen gave to Fox News:

“The Department of Defense places a high value on the rights of members of the Military Services to observe the tenets of their respective religions and respects (and supports by its policy) the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs.  The Department does not endorse any one religion or religious organization, and provides free access of religion for all members of the military services.
Court martials and non-judicial punishment are decided on case-by-case basis and it would be inappropriate to speculate on the outcome in specific cases.
However, religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense.”

Do you see what Starnes did there? He left out the longer section of Christensen’s answer that affirmed “free access of religion for all members of the military services.” Then he reversed the order of the quotes to make it seem as though the outcome of religious proselytizing cases would be court martial. In fact, Christensen stated the obvious fact that the goal of the DoD is for the punishment to fit the crime, whatever it is. Religious proselytizing, though not permitted, will not necessarily result in the harshest punishments, unless circumstances warrant that penalty. Starnes is not completely wrong but he left out information that would have provided a more accurate picture of the situation.
Todd Starnes was on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show last night and they linked the two statements together out of the original sequence as presented by the DoD spokesman.
Another false aspect being reported (last night on Hannity) is that the Pentagon is walking back from an earlier position. According to Christensen, this is not true. He confirmed that there is nothing new in these regulations and that a ban on proselytizing (coercion) was in place before the recent controversy.
Even if the first statement had been reported in total, I can imagine that many people would have wanted clarification of terms. What is proselytizing exactly and what is acceptable sharing of faith? These are reasonable questions that the DoD addressed in yesterday’s statement. However, the worries over Christians being vulnerable to court martial just for speaking about their beliefs were over the top.
For the most recent DoD statement on religious proselytizing, go here. At that link, you can also see the DoD statement on Mikey Weinstein’s alleged influence on the recent regulations. Starnes said in his April 30 post, that the DoD was “vetting” regulations with Weinstein. According to the DoD, this dramatically overstates the importance of Weinstein’s meeting at the Pentagon. In short, the regulations on religious proselytizing were in place long before the recent meeting with Weinstein.
Related post:
Is the Military Preparing to Court Martial Christians?
 

Is the Military Preparing to Court Martial Christians? (UPDATED)

UPDATE: I have information from  Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a DoD Spokesman, regarding two issues of interest to claims about the military and religious faith. The first relates claims that Christians were being targeted. Lt. Cmdr. Christensen said in an email:

“The U.S. Department of Defense has never and will never single out a particular religious group for persecution or prosecution.  The Department makes reasonable accommodations for all religions and celebrates the religious diversity of our service members.
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).
If a service member harasses another member on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, or disability, then the commander takes action based on the gravity of the occurrence.  Likewise, when religious harassment complaints are reported, commanders take action based on the gravity of the occurrence on a case by case basis.
The Department of Defense places a high value on the rights of members of the Military Services to observe the tenets of their respective religions and respects (and supports by its policy) the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs.  The Department does not endorse any one religion or religious organization, and provides free access of religion for all members of the military services.
We work to ensure that all service members are free to exercise their Constitutional right to practice their religion — in a manner that is respectful of other individuals’ rights to follow their own belief systems; and in ways that are conducive to good order and discipline; and that do not detract from accomplishing the military mission.”

This makes things clearer and I hope cuts through the news reports that have helped generate the controversy.
The second statement is about the role of Mikey Weinstein in the meeting he had with military leaders at the Pentagon. Some sources have suggested he was a consultant. According Lt. Cmdr Christensen:

“Mr. Weinstein is not part of any DoD Advisory Group or Committee, nor is he a consultant to the Defense Department regarding religious matters.
Mr. Weinstein requested, and was granted, a meeting at the Pentagon April 23, with the Air Force Judge Advocate General and others, to include the Deputy Chief of Chaplains, to express his concerns of religious issues in the military.
The Department of Defense places a high value on the rights of members of the Military Services to observe the tenets of their respective religions and respects (and supports by its policy) the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs.  The Department does not endorse any one religion or religious organization, and provides free access of religion for all members of the military services.”

UPDATE: Bob Smietana at the Tennessean contacted the DOD regarding the reports of court martial and purging the military of Christians. He reports that the DOD denies these claims. According to a DOD spokesman, people can share their faith but cannot force their beliefs on others.
…..(original post begins here)
You might believe so if you listen to religious right pundits over the last couple of days.  On April 30, Fox News pundit Todd Starnes told his listeners that military leaders met with Mikey Weinstein in April to discuss military regulations against sharing one’s religious faith. As quoted by Starnes, Weinstein said “Until the Air Force or Army or Navy or Marine Corps punishes a member of the military for unconstitutional religious proselytizing and oppression, we will never have the ability to stop this horrible, horrendous, dehumanizing behavior.” On point, Starnes cites a Department of Defense spokesman: “’Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense,’ [spokesman] Nate Christensen said in a written statement.” Continue reading “Is the Military Preparing to Court Martial Christians? (UPDATED)”