Ted Cruz's Religious Liberty Guidelines Target Gays and Miss the Mark

Awhile back, Ted Cruz formed a committee to advise him on religious liberty issues. However, looking at their initial recommendations released yesterday, it appears the committee had a dual role — religious liberty and discrimination against GLBT folk.  Here is the press release from the Cruz campaign:
cruz logo

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Alice Stewart, (202) 365-5654
News Release Catherine Frazier, (512) 751-5984
March 24, 2016
 Cruz Welcomes Initial Religious Liberty Recommendations from Advisory Council  
Cruz: “As We Celebrate Spiritual Freedom During Easter, We Remember that Religious Liberty is the First American Freedom”
HOUSTON, Texas – Presidential Candidate Ted Cruz today received initial recommendations from his Religious Liberty Advisory Council, formed last month to advise his campaign and future administration on policies to defend religious liberty domestically and internationally.
“During this Holy Week, as Christians prepare to celebrate spiritual freedom in Christ, we remember also that religious liberty is the first American freedom,” said Cruz. “I thank this learned and committed group of leaders for their wise recommendations, and as president I will be proud to work with them to protect our religious liberty. Defending religious liberty has been a lifelong passion, and I’ve been blessed to help win national victories, preserving the Texas Ten Commandments monument, the words ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial.”
The recommendations comprise 15 initial actions, both legislative and executive, to emphasize and bolster the freedom of religion in the United States. Included are the following proposals:

  • Issue an executive order preventing the federal government from discriminating against Americans who believe that marriage is a sacrament between one man and one woman.
  • Reinstate thorough and protective conscience rights protections in federal healthcare programs.
  • Direct the Department of Health and Human Services to exempt all employers who object for moral and religious reasons from any contraception mandate.
  • Update and revise military regulations to reflect a robust constitutional understanding of the first amendment rights of military personnel, particularly chaplains.
  • Pass the First Amendment Defense Act “to prevent discriminatory treatment of any person on the basis of views held with respect to marriage.”
  • Direct the IRS to publicly clarify the generous rights of non-profits and religious leaders to engage in political speech without compromising their tax-exempt status.
  • Rescind executive orders which limit the government from partnering with faith-based non-profit organizations.
  • Order the Department of Education to issue guidelines which accurately address the rights of students, teachers, and other school personnel to live out their faith in a school setting.

“Our constitutional liberties should not be subject to the whims of the current administration,” Cruz continued. “Whether Hobby Lobby or the Little Sisters of the Poor, people of faith should not be made to bow down at the altar of political correctness. As president, I have pledged on my first day in office to rescind every single one of President Obama’s unconstitutional executive actions, and to direct every federal agency to respect and protect the religious liberty of every American.”
Yesterday, oral arguments were presented before the Supreme Court in the religious liberty case Zubik vs. Burwell, which includes the appeals of Little Sisters of the Poor and Priests for Life for their right to serve the needy without suffering conscience violations from government. As Cruz has often said, “Mr. President, if you’re litigating against nuns, you’re probably doing something wrong.”
More than 46,000 Americans have joined the campaign’s Faith and Religious Liberty coalition.
###

The 15 initial actions provide a few more specifics. These two seem to have nothing to do with religious liberty and everything to do with discriminating against gays.

Rescind Executive Order 13672, which had (without adequate religious exemptions) required certain federal contractors to not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. In the alternative, create significantly larger and robust exemptions for religious organizations and businesses falling under the authority of Executive Order 13672.
 
Direct all federal agencies to stop interpreting “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and/or“gender identity” where the term “sex” refers to a protected class in federal law. Prioritize this effort at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Department of Education,Department of Health and Human Services, and Department of Housing and Urban Development.

It is hard to imagine how requiring government contractors to be fair to gays infringes on anyone’s religious liberty. Contractors should not be allowed to fire a gay person simply for being gay. Cruz and company have singled out gays as the only group who can be discriminated against under these recommendations.
These recommendations are inconsistent with Ronald Reagan’s beliefs about discrimination and gays. Reagan opposed job discrimination against gays and as California governor opposed a ballot initiative which would have forbid gays from becoming teachers.
I generally favor an expanded ability of healthcare providers to decline to participate in procedures which violate their conscience.
An interesting effect of some of these planks, if implemented in an unbiased manner, is that all adherents of all religions would be freer to proselytize on the job or in the military. Chaplains have been limited from proselytizing by military guidelines. Christian chaplains have complained that they can’t share the Gospel. However, these guidelines also keep non-Christian chaplains from trying to convert Christians. Cruz’s team would open things up for lots of efforts to convert soldiers to various faiths. Personally, I prefer restrictions on workplace “soul winning” as helping to prevent religious coercion from superiors.
On the whole these guidelines target gays and would create more opportunities for religious coercion on the job.
 

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.
 
 
 

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)”