"Forced religion stinks in the nostrils of God." -- Roger Williams
Every so often, certain members of peculiar organizations find some snippet of news to be cause for panic (or rejoice) in light of the fast approaching end of the world. Today some are panicking like it's 1999. Still others may be partying like it's May 21, 2011 (I celebrated that apocalypse with several friends and an unauthorized party on the banks of the Hudson river if I remember right). It appears that we are currently riding out the last dwindling moments of humanity and that "THE END TIMES ARE HERE" ... again. The new source of these marginal malcontents is the perceived persecution of Christians in the American armed forces. What follows is a collaborative effort between myself and Dustin Chalker, responding to such alarmist claims.
Perhaps you've heard the rumor going around that the military is discriminating against Christians. Perhaps you think there are new regulations, or new policies, or someone being court marshaled for their beliefs. Well, you can rest assured that the whole thing is a complete fabrication. Many far right organizations have turned the story of enforcement of existing regulations into one of the fulfillment of an "End Time Prophecy."
The military has regulations governing behavior and relationships between service members. No service member has a right to harass another service member. This is particularly important in senior/subordinate relationships, which are of substantial ethical concern due to the asymmetry of power and the very real consequences of not abiding by the desires of superiors. For instance, it is against regulations to sexually harass a service member. It is not against regulations to have personal feelings for another service member. Behavior is regulated, not feelings or beliefs.
Similarly, it is against regulations to proselytize. Proselytizing is not being religious, talking about religion, or debating it in appropriate times. Those things are fine and legal. Proselytizing is religious harassment: non-consensual solicitation with the intent to persuade someone into an action or affirmation of belief they do not willfully consent to. Service members don't have a right to harass fellow service members about anything. Religion does not get an exception.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) supports every service member's right to maintain personal religious beliefs and we support free exercise of religion. Like all individual rights, the right to free exercise is your personal right and does not extend to involuntary coercion, harassment, or use of authority for personal gain.
The rumor of "anti-Christian" regulations began after the Pentagon held a meeting with MRFF President Mikey Weinstein about the problems experienced by our clients. These problems include religious harassment that gets swept under the rug, routine prayer ceremonies that service members are forced to attend, and mandatory "spiritual fitness" training which assess the resiliency of service members based, in part, on their degree of faith to name the most common. That is what we are against. Not free exercise of religion, but a politically active forceful abuse of authority for religious purposes.
MRFF is not opposed to Christians or Christianity. We are opposed to Theocracy and Dominionism, beliefs that entangle religion and politics in an effort to establish legal privilege and supremacy. Moderate Christians support us in this fight, and we would like to believe that the majority of those who do not are misled by propaganda. 96 percent of MRFF clients are Christians subjected to harassment for not being "Christian enough." Dominionists are a common enemy of all freedom-loving Americans, whether they are Christian or not. Here are just a few examples of the myriad letters of support the MRFF has received from religious clients:
"Mikey, I was one of the West Point faculty members on the emergency conference call with you last night...I am a West Point graduate and I am a Protestant. In fact, all twenty seven of us are either Protestant or Roman Catholic...I could go on for pages about the insane idiocy of extending this invitation to the anti-Muslim bigot Boykin but I don't have the time to compose that tome...West Point has an "official religion" and it's evangelical/fundamentalist Christianity. And THAT is precisely why this prejudiced racist Boykin has been invited to disgrace our Academy with his Islamophobic filth at this religious event. We know that you know this fact. We thank you, Mikey and the MRFF, for being there to represent all of us because if any of us raised even the slightest hand in protest, the consequences would be devastating to both our professional and personal lives."
"I am a soldier in the United States Army. I was raised as a Southern Baptist. Today I was attending graduation practice for my AIT graduation. When we arrived at the chapel where the ceremony is taking place in, I saw the plan for graduation included a prayer. When we reached that part, we were told we were required to bow our heads and cross our hands in front of us. I immediately pointed out that not only is a prayer at a public ceremony unconstitutional, but to force someone to give the illusion of religion when the individual does not believe in any religion is blatantly wrong and very illegal...I was told that if I did not bow my head and clasp my hands that I would be subject to UCMJ punitive action...Mr. Weinstein moved remarkably fast on this, and I believe that my cadre's knowledge that I already had a lawyer from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation in the loop is what caused them to change their blatantly unconstitutional order...Their work to get the numerous promotions of religion in the military out is a great service to the entire armed forces."
"I am the United States Navy sailor...who contacted you yesterday about being unduly proselytized to by my unit's CO...I was out of options. Did not know what to do? Talked to my dad (retired Navy) and my wife. They recommended to ask MRFF for the help needed. All I can say is that when my next duty shift started today I was ordered to my CO's CO and his CO was there too. They apologized for what had happened and told me of the corrective procedures taken against my unit's CO...Apparently my problem with him was not the first such time. Yesterday was my worst day in the Navy. But today is my best day thanks to the MRFF! I have never seen such a fast and productive response...Just so you know, I am a Protestant. My brother in law is a ordained pastor and he married my wife and me. He also baptized each of our 4 kids. My family and I cannot thank all of you ever enough. I am sending the MRFF url website to every sailor I know on board our vessel and the whole Navy!"