Pentagon: No, we’re not trying to limit religious expression

posted at 8:41 am on May 9, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Worth a follow-up only because critics wondered why the Defense Department hadn’t responded in full to earlier questions about its supposedly new policy restricting proselytizing by “leaders.” In the middle of the Benghazi hearings yesterday, Ben Goad at The Hill did get the Pentagon on record with a confirmation that, er, nothing has changed:

The Pentagon moved Wednesday to quash reports that the Defense Department was pursuing new regulations limiting religious freedom among service members.

“Service members may exercise their rights under the First Amendment regarding the free exercise of religion unless doing so adversely affects good order, discipline, or some other aspect of the military mission,” Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen told The Hill Wednesday. “Even then, the Department seeks a reasonable religious accommodation for the service member.”

In fact, the Pentagon hasn’t even bothered to promulgate a coordinated rule, and have made no changes at all to the UCMJ:

“Furthermore,” he said, “there is no effort within the department to make religious proselytizing a specific offense within the (Uniform Code of Military Justice).

“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,” Christensen said. “Concerns about these issues are handled on a case by case basis by the leaders of the unit involved.”

The key here is forcibly.  When I wrote about this last week, I noted that most organizations with any kind of hierarchical structure — with religious faiths excepted, of course — have written or unwritten rules about leaders forcing their religious beliefs on underlings.  It’s a discipline issue, as favoritism or ostracization on the basis of anything except job performance sets up all kinds of perverse incentives within an organization and ends up hurting the product and/or service.  Generally speaking, it’s a good idea for leaders in any organization at any level to tread carefully in this area, or risk creating cliques and barriers to efficiency and performance.

This sounds like a rational and reasonable approach, especially considering the critical nature of unit discipline and cohesion in the armed services.  The Pentagon seems to have no problem with people discussing their faith in an open, sharing context, but want to prevent undue pressure from superiors on subordinates to participate in religious activities against their wishes.  That’s a common-sense approach that we all should support.


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Their is no other god……except the government.

–Progressives.

PappyD61 on May 9, 2013 at 8:48 AM

So where does Maj. Nidal Hassan fit into this?

gryphon202 on May 9, 2013 at 8:51 AM

Sky pilots beware…times have changed.

It is no longer “Onward Christian Soldiers…” It is become “Nahnu Jund Allāh Jund Al-watan.

coldwarrior on May 9, 2013 at 8:53 AM

This sounds like a rational and reasonable approach, especially considering the critical nature of unit discipline and cohesion in the armed services. The Pentagon seems to have no problem with people discussing their faith in an open, sharing context, but want to prevent undue pressure from superiors on subordinates to participate in religious activities against their wishes. That’s a common-sense approach that we all should support.

Ed, anybody who has served in the military could have told you this without the need of a follow-up.

The real issue here is who gets to define “forcibly.” Clearly something like mandatory Bible study would be considered forced proselytizing but what about mentioning Christ during the prayer at a retirement ceremony? There is a real danger here that is covered up by going to the extremes. The left hates faith and is looking to slowly eradicating it from the military and nobody is going to convince me otherwise. Just wait until the first chaplains are kicked out of the service because they refuse to preside over sodomite fuax-marriage rites in a military chapel.

Happy Nomad on May 9, 2013 at 8:57 AM

They are backing off the trial balloon they floated due to massive push back. But the seed has been planted.

tommyboy on May 9, 2013 at 9:00 AM

So where does Maj. Nidal Hassan fit into this?

gryphon202 on May 9, 2013 at 8:51 AM

Why bring up a military officer who merely went postal on a crowd of soldiers? That was an instance of workplace violence. The 13 killed and 30 wounded are not even eligible for the Purple Heart because, you know, that would mean they were attacked by a Muslim…. in Texas.

Happy Nomad on May 9, 2013 at 9:00 AM

Don’t buy it or they wouldn’t have Mikey Weinstein “consulting” them..

melle1228 on May 9, 2013 at 9:04 AM

27 comments or bust!

Bishop on May 9, 2013 at 9:07 AM

The heat got too hot for them, so they backed their plans down…for now.

kingsjester on May 9, 2013 at 9:14 AM

A poster here summed it up last week … (paraphrased) …

Gay — out and proud
Christianity — don’t ask, don’t tell

Paul-Cincy on May 9, 2013 at 9:19 AM

The watch for violations of the right of religious expression needs to continue.

22044 on May 9, 2013 at 9:21 AM

Coke and Christianity are OK..of course…Don’t ban anything.

We can just do a “big gulp” type regulation, yea, that’s the ticket! Legislate civility or a reasonable limit.

This preaching limit is redolent of second amendment limits.

Does every tradition or sacred object have a bull’s eye painted on it lately — or is it me?

I would be a lot more comfortable if it were not for the smell of Christian and traditional faith bashing I keep getting a whiff of in so many places. I keep feeling that it starts with the media and top officials and they just don’t want to come out and say what is really on their minds.

WAS THIS REALLY A PROBLEM?

I doubt it.

IlikedAUH2O on May 9, 2013 at 9:21 AM

Mormon missionaries at my door don’t bother me half as much as gays in bars.

Darn! Now I just lost my pass for cool left coast parties….hope the attentive ones are busy with the early showers in rehab.

IlikedAUH2O on May 9, 2013 at 9:25 AM

Remain vigilant especially when you have like likes of Mikey Weinstein whose sole area of expertise is denigrating Christianity.

AH_C on May 9, 2013 at 9:29 AM

Hhhmmm… “forcibly” can have different contexts. I too had a negative initial reaction to the DOJ policy. In discussing this with some friends, I remembered a personal incident that moved this into a much grayer area for me.

Twenty some years ago I was a young college student on ROTC scholarship. Being a “military brat” it seemed like a good path. Unfortunately, the command structure in that unit was (I didn’t know until much later) far different, bordering on abusive, than the typical ROTC command eventually leading to disciplinary action for the active duty personnel running it. So, I am not writing this claiming it to be typical, but merely as a way in which “forcibly” can have a different meaning in a military structure.

During an intensive 2 week pre-semester “boot camp” at a local military base, we were there for 2 Sundays. We did the basic boot camp stuff, PT, marching, tear gas chamber, obstacle course, cleaning baracks, polishing shoes and brass, etc. On Sunday mornings we were offered an option – attend Sunday ecumenical services or clean the barrack’s bathroom. Needless to say, all of us 18-19 year olds atttended church services.

We certainly weren’t forced in the conventional sense, however, we were certainly coerced. Who wouldn’t want to put on kahkis and sit in church rather than don dungarees and scrub the head? I’m not suggesting that this particular type of coersion is happening regularly or even today, but I have heard friends tell of not dissimilar events in the regular military in the 80s.

I have no idea if it was events such as that leading to the DOJ pronouncement, something vastly different or just the general anti-Christianity of so many in this administration. However, I do think that there may be another side to this story that has not been articulated or complaints about some specific events or command that led to it. At this point, I’m going to keep a more open mind about it until/unless there is some evidence, at least anecdotal, that this is in some way restricting service members normal practice of their faith.

deepdiver on May 9, 2013 at 9:29 AM

“Mormon missionaries at my door don’t bother me half as much as gays in bars.”

You may be hanging out in the wrong bars.

tommyboy on May 9, 2013 at 9:31 AM

This sounds like a rational and reasonable approach, especially considering the critical nature of unit discipline and cohesion in the armed services.

To a certain degree and in particular to this conversation I would agree.

However, the problem lies in trying to reconcile religious freedom with the social changes that force leaders are so fond of. This is especially pertinent to homosexuality.

For example, if one believes according to their religion that homosexuality is wrong (please take notice I mean morally wrong, not a hateful response or discriminatory) how does their “freedom” to believe that comport with the “freedom” of one to be homosexual? How does that affect unit cohesion and dilute the overall mission? Will my religious views affect an ability to be promoted? Will I be socially castigated by the CoC for not being a “team player” by adhering to matters of faith?

While I love my brother in a biblical sense, I may disagree with him on such matters. That disagreement manifest itself in not wanting to room with him or being exposed to his lifestyle. So is my “religious freedom” which is under-girded by moral tenets still protected and respected?

This is just one of the complexities and issues which are tangential. It also aptly displays why a military force is no place for social experimentation.

Marcus Traianus on May 9, 2013 at 9:36 AM

This is just one of the complexities and issues which are tangential. It also aptly displays why a military force is no place for social experimentation.

Marcus Traianus on May 9, 2013 at 9:36 AM

What is the social experiment? People keep using that phrase, but I don’t think it applies here.

segasagez on May 9, 2013 at 9:49 AM

The key here is forcibly.

That word was only in there for PR. To a leftist, “forcibly” means all sorts of weird things that a normal person would never connect with the actual word.

The Pentagon is a stinkhole full of idiots like ol’ General Casey, whose reaction to the Ft Hood terrorist attack was to say,

“As great a tragedy as this was, it would be a shame if our diversity became a casualty as well.”

These are the sorts of morons who are going to be interpreting what “forcibly” means – and you will be amazed at what they come up with. Just remember, Ft Hood wasn’t a terrorist attack, even though the self-proclaimed jihadi was screaming “Allahu ackbar” while he gunned down Americans and had indicated his displeasure with all things non-muzzie for YEARS before. Ft Hood was “workplace violence” … and you’re going to trust this same crew to reasonably interpret what “forcibly” means? LOL.

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on May 9, 2013 at 9:51 AM

What is the social experiment? People keep using that phrase, but I don’t think it applies here.

segasagez on May 9, 2013 at 9:49 AM

The social experiment is that instead of creating unit cohesion and a team; the military is not segmented into special interest groups which defeats the whole purpose of unit cohesion.

Don’t think there isn’t special interest groups see racial and gender quotas in the military.. See the constant powerpoint presentations and EO classes.

melle1228 on May 9, 2013 at 10:06 AM

That’s a common-sense approach that we all should support.

Not really, Ed. The question that is unanswered is: why this sudden and urgent crackdown now?

When this administration declares there’s a new crisis that needs fixing right now, I think we’ve all learned enough not to let what they do slide, much less lend them any support. Never let a crisis go to waste, y’know. Or just manufacture a crisis when it serves an end.

whatcat on May 9, 2013 at 10:33 AM

Their is no other god……except the government.

–Progressives.

Eventually those progressives are gonna run into a bit of a problem with their muslim allies in regard to that concept.

hawkeye54 on May 9, 2013 at 10:58 AM

The Pentagon is a stinkhole full of idiots like ol’ General Casey, whose reaction to the Ft Hood terrorist attack was to say,
“As great a tragedy as this was, it would be a shame if our diversity became a casualty as well.”
ThePrimordialOrderedPair on May 9, 2013 at 9:51 AM

Even worse, these assclowns who disgrace the uniform they wear are taking their orders from Mikey Weinstein, a particularly nasty and virulent anti-Christian hatemonger. He terms a Christian discussing faith as “being spiritually raped by fundamentalist Christian religious predators”.

whatcat on May 9, 2013 at 11:20 AM

Don’t worry. When they’re in the foxholes, they will convert.

Hucklebuck on May 9, 2013 at 11:56 AM

This sounds like a rational and reasonable approach, especially considering the critical nature of unit discipline and cohesion in the armed services. The Pentagon seems to have no problem with people discussing their faith in an open, sharing context, but want to prevent undue pressure from superiors on subordinates to participate in religious activities against their wishes. That’s a common-sense approach that we all should support.

What is “undue pressure?”

That simple question makes a huge difference. We’ve already seen a PR person for the Air Force define “making someone uncomfortable” as the standard for proselytization.

Yes, there’s a balance that needs to be kept. Saying something about your belief in God or the need to believe in God may well make someone “uncomfortable,” but that is not sufficient reason to label it proselytization or call it “over the line.”

Behind the story, there is a power struggle going on. Weinstein and others like him want to redefine what started as a simple standard to prevent coercion by superiors into a strict “zero tolerance” type standard to prevent even a chaplain from encouraging someone to become a Christian.

What’s hard to read here is whether the Air Force is simply trying to clarify the rules without actually changing them, or whether they’re trying to change the rules by interpretation while pretending nothing has changed.

But it’s clear enough that some, at least, are trying to turn “proselytization” into a dirty word implying coercion where it has not typically had that meaning.

In Christian doctrine, it’s simply known as the Great Commission. And you can’t tell a chaplain to take the position that conversion to Christianity is off-limits without trampling religious freedom.

There Goes the Neighborhood on May 9, 2013 at 3:17 PM

This is just one of the complexities and issues which are tangential. It also aptly displays why a military force is no place for social experimentation.

Marcus Traianus on May 9, 2013 at 9:36 AM

What is the social experiment? People keep using that phrase, but I don’t think it applies here.

segasagez on May 9, 2013 at 9:49 AM

I believe the term “social experiment” refers to the fact that no one knows how unit cohesion will be affected and other consequences of the decision to change the policy on open homosexuality in the military, but they’re doing it anyway.

A fairly straightforward point, but it runs afoul of the push to mainstream homosexuality at all costs, regardless of consequences known or unknown.

In this case, the consequence is the natural conflict between homosexuality and religious freedom. Note that the question is not whether homosexuality is permitted, but whether Christians who believe it is sinful will be permitted to continue to believe that.

There Goes the Neighborhood on May 9, 2013 at 3:30 PM

I’d like it if NO Christians were in the military. None. Nada.

Let every other religion/NON-religion (ie -atheist) go sign up and protect the country……..

and die for it.

Why should Christians always be the ones at the front of the lines and then have to be mocked, given few or little support at home when they do make it home?

LET others do it, get stigmatized, and leave the Christians alone. They’ll eventually need to do a draft because those “other” religions or “non-religions” won’t fill all the slots. Watch the uproar then.

athenadelphi on May 9, 2013 at 3:32 PM

They are backing off the trial balloon they floated

They didn’t “float” anything. This was a fabricated story from the get-go. It was just the FRC trying to portray Christians as victims.

Mark Jaquith on May 9, 2013 at 5:07 PM