WASHINGTON (RNS) Republican lawmakers and conservative activists concerned that religious expression in the military is “under attack” are rallying behind a measure to provide greater protection for religious “actions and speech” in the armed forces.

Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) seeks support during a Capitol Hill press conference on July 9 for his military religious freedom amendment, which would protect the religious actions and speech of service members. RNS photo by Corrie Mitchell

Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) seeks support during a Capitol Hill press conference on July 9 for his military religious freedom amendment, which would protect the religious actions and speech of service members. RNS photo by Corrie Mitchell


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The amendment, sponsored by Rep. John Fleming, R-La., would specify in the military spending bill that, “Except in cases of military necessity, the Armed Forces shall accommodate the beliefs, actions, and speech” of service members.

Previous spending bills protected the “beliefs” of service members and chaplains, but the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act would expand protections to include religious “actions and speech.”

That move has already drawn opposition from the White House, which says the change would impact commanders’ ability to address conflicts within the ranks.

Members of Congress and a coalition led by the Washington-based Family Research Council released a report Tuesday (July 9) that documented a number of “discrete events” that reflect “a larger picture of the threat to religious liberty that now exists in America’s armed forces.”

“There is a growing list of cases and incidents that point to the fact that religious liberty in our nation’s military is under attack,” FRC President Tony Perkins said.

Incidents in the report include the removal of a painting that included a Bible verse from the dining hall of Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho, and an Air Force officer who was told to remove a Bible from his desk.

The Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, a member of the coalition, is distributing “Religious Liberty Palm Cards” to educate chaplains and service members of their religious rights, with guidance on how to request a “reasonable accommodation for your sincerely held religious beliefs.” 

The coalition also created a website for service members to report violations against their religious liberties and request legal aid.

“Political correctness has absolutely destroyed the whole concept of being able to live your faith, which is what religious liberty is,” said retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, executive vice president of the Family Research Council.

Boykin has come under fire for previous statements about Islam, including that the post-9/11 “war on terror” was a spiritual battle between Muslims and “Christian America” and referring to the God of Islam as “an idol.”

Fleming’s amendment has already passed the House, and a similar amendment by Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has passed the Senate Armed Services Committee. Fleming hopes the Obama administration will leave it intact after saying the amendment “would have a significant adverse effect on good order, discipline, morale, and mission accomplishment.”

“We know the president is very uncomfortable with your religious liberty,” Fleming said.

Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and an outspoken critic of proselytism in the military, called the amendment “egregious” and “vile.” Weinstein said that he would immediately sue if the amendment passes, calling it “completely unconstitutional.”

“They’re nothing more than theocrats attempting to put into law the right for military members to bully, abuse, oppress, marginalize and dehumanize subordinates who cannot fight back,” Weinstein said, noting that service members face pressure to follow superiors’ orders.

Members of the coalition said that the language of the amendment does not allow for coercion of rank-and-file service members.

“If this administration is going to continue to tolerate this kind of intolerance, they’re going to lose members of the military that cannot serve if their First Amendment rights are not going to be protected with regard to religion,” Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, said.

41 Comments

  1. David Thompson

    Poor pitiful persecuted delusional Christians. For almost 2000 years they have been chasing this phantasm they call Jesus. How in the 21st century are you supposed to take an adult seriously, give them a job and responsibilities, allow them to parent children, when they are completely deluded?

    I hope if passes the military is flooded with Muslim fundamentalists, Sikhs, Buddhists, and all the other cults so they don’t have time to create wars with all the religious crap to contend with. Each one conflicting with the other. Damn theocrats.

    • “How in the 21st century are you supposed to take an adult seriously, give them a job and responsibilities, allow them to parent children, when they are completely deluded?”

      I am so glad you are so self aware as we don’t take you seriously.

    • Libertarian Soldier

      That’s very intolerant and bigoted of you. I hope that’s a compliment in your limited, angry world.

      Christians have been raising families for 2000 years by your statement, most better than those without God, without faith, without morals, I’d wager.

      I’m glad they would forgive your attacks on them while they and I wish you peace, understanding and love.

  2. Retired Air Force Member

    The only thing under attack are the abuses perpetrated by conservative religious zealots. No civilized society permits fanatics to shove their beliefs down the throats of others. That behavior is especially damaging in the armed forces where military authority could exacerbate those abuses. It’s bad for morale and readiness.

    • Thanks! Looks like we are on the same page. I was writing my subsequent comment while you were writing yours. I hope that many people speaking out, especially current and former military personnel, will influence policy in this regard.

  3. I’m more concerned with this faction’s assumption that America and its military are required to be Christian, and that any challenge to the assumed Christianity of America and the military is an “attack.” Regardless of what I believe (or not), as an American citizen, I would be a lot more comfortable with being defended by a military which had no stake in religion at all.

    • Retired Air Force Member

      I can’t remember proselytizing ever being a problem during my 30 years on active duty. Some people were religious, some were not, and it was no big deal one way or the other. Now the Christian Taliban is terrorizing everybody who doesn’t march in lockstep with their primitive superstitions.

      • Danny Berry, NYC

        the stories about the pressure from peers and leadership at the Air Force Academy in the last number of years must have been upsetting for you–having served 30 years. Thanks for posting that.

      • With all due respect, you and Miss Kathy are assuming people who want to be able to keep practicing their first amendment right are Christian when really, people of any faith should be allowed to practice their first amendment right. It’s the principal here. I agree that no belief should be shoved down anyone’s throat, but preserving the 1st would not support such behavior, only ignorance and perhaps misconception would allow that. Personally, I’m a Christian who would like to see other Christians, as well as people of other faiths, be able to live their religious faith, which hurts NO ONE, without being harassed.

  4. Danny Berry, NYC

    we gay folks are accustomed to this: their perception of religious freedom is the right to speak degradingly to and lay violent hands on gay people simply because we are gay. They tend to be very big on the parts of the bible that prescribe violence–including death–for those whom they don’t like or agree with. But they’re strangely mute about the Sermon on the Mount.

    • From the Sermon on the Mount: “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandment, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven….” (Matt. 5:19). Contrary to popular opinion, the sermon on the mount is not a collection of warm fuzzies.

      • Daniel Berry, NYC

        strange you should say that: I can’t think of anything in the SOTM that I”d call a warm fuzzy. It’s true that Hallmark has made tragic, innocuous cliches of some of the Beatitudes, but that isn’t Jesus’ fault.

    • Since you appear to be attacking Christians, you should know that’s it’s not Christian value that supports bullying, but people simply having human error that makes them act inappropriately. Since the sermon on the mount seems to confuse you, how about learning the real meaning of it instead of your own narrow view? Oh, and you do yourself no favors when you use Christians as scapegoats for your hate. One does not have to be religious to not support homosexuality, yet gays are oddly silent when it comes to people who aren’t religious not agreeing with them

  5. In our officer’s training (90 day wonderf!) for WW2, we were required to attend religious services. At 2:00 pm on Saturday, we were released from required activity. We had to be present at 5 pm on Sunday to march as groups to religious services. Three groups, labelled Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish. The sermons were frightful in all three. Though I was Christian, I quickly learned that attending the Jewish service was preferable. No officer marched with us, and it was light enough in the service to read. If you want watered down pap as religion, show up at armed services religious functions. Few things could be as damaging to a strong religious faith.

    • Perhaps you have not been listening (or reading) to everyone here and nearly everywhere else. Your religious liberty is protected in the first ammendment and it is also limited.

      the issue is the military, through its commanders, is “establishing” religion by coercing young malleable men into following their cult. that is illegal. An individual is free to practice her faith but I am also free from it. In the military, the chain of command creates a conflict with the first.

      “all of America” as you say is quite different. As long as the government doesn’t deny you the right to pray and go to church, they are in compliance. It doesn’t mean that I and many hundreds of thousands of others cannot work to show you, or your children if it is too late for you, that religion is harmful.

      Pushing people to evolve beyond delusional religious faith is something we can do as we aren’t the government. We can also demand you do not cause the government to adopt your beliefs, as in abortion and marriage rights, which we are doing quite succesfully.

      You don’t need a law to protect your beliefs, you need cognitive skills to realize the beliefs are ridiculous.

      • Interesting that you speak of the religious being delusional when you speak of fears of things that don’t even exist! Perhaps you weren’t reading yourself, in one is trying to “establish religion” on those that don’t want it. I’m willing to bet most people of faith don’t desire to push their beliefs on others either, as that’s wrong. However, we do need to have out religious liberty protected, lest hate mongers like you step all over others. Have a good day.

  6. The chaplain’s duty is to care for the spiritual needs ofhe service member, not to be confused with freedom to proselytize or teach a narrow doctrine. They’re their to serve the sailors and soldiers who may not have their own priest/pastor/rabbi/imam near where they are serving. If the chaplain feels that his/her religious liberty is infringed upon by this duty, thn by all means LEAVE! The military mission and esprit d’corps would be much better served. Let the raving fundies go on TV and bilk their adherents like their own kind.

  7. Where is all this hatred coming from? One of the reasons I have made Religion News my homepage is to avoid the angst of being constantly ridiculed for my belief in God. I don’t like this development.

  8. Ben, there are no comments here that should be understood as ridiculing your belief in God. Belief is a personal matter and you may believe as you wish. The comments posted here have been attacking the needless evangelical impulse to shove religion down the throats of others uninvited. No religious codes should ever be imposed on society at large.

    • Thank you, Mike. I have no desire to force anything on anyone. I am just weary of those who despise my theistic beliefs and feel the need to tell me about it with spite and arrogance.

      • With all due respect, Ben, you might find yourself less weary if you were to put yourselves in our shoes. Religion and religious people have attacked my family from the day I was born. Religion and religious people have tried to get my government to instill theocratic rules on me and the rest of society.

        Religion has fueld holy wars that my tax dollars pay for and it has fueled hate crimes that find my brothers and sisters at the wrong end of a gun.

        Sorry you are weary but if religious people would mind their own business, we might sit aside and let you have your childishly selfish beliefts. But since it affects us and your beliefs are rooted in selfishness (give me my afterlife no matter what it means to all those people I’ve steamrolled with my tacit support of the evils of religion….) we have chosen to point out how ridiculous and how selfish what you believe is.

        Simple solution: stop enabling hate, misogony and violence (oh, and child rape, brainwashing, hoarding, hurting the poor…I could so go on and on and on and on and on). it is up to you, not us. We aren’t going away.

  9. godlessveteran

    Irony overload! Perkins and Boykin are poster children for their huge part as the real threat to religious liberty in America. Fleming, Gohmert, and their ilk are their willing pawns in ensuring that Christians are privileged to force their dogma on others who will have no recourse to object.

    Since this bill is supposed to “protect” religious freedom in the military, will it protect a low ranking troop who responds to obnoxious proselytizing and coercion by telling his superior to stuff their religion where the sun doesn’t shine? No. This is not meant to protect the unwilling. This is intended to put a bludgeon in the hands of abusive proselytizers.

  10. It is unfortunate that the author of this piece chose to show bias by not mentioning that FRC is a certified Hate Group.

    Everytime a reporer or media outlet has Tony Perkins on or quotes him without mentioning this, and his KKK past for that matter, their credibility is diminished.

    I guess I’ve learned that about RNS after linking here from the much more objective PEW.

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