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

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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