Military Bibles: Chaplains and Lawyers are People, Too

Some people live under the false impression military officers are perfect.  While the nature of their profession often leaves little room for error, the men and women who make up the military officer corps are as fallible as the next person.

Military Chaplains, who often enter the military as 1LTs or Captains, have been known to give incorrect military guidance.  Despite their role as spiritual leaders, they’ve also been known to dispense incorrect theology.  Military lawyers, or “Judge Advocates General (JAGs),” are similar.  They, too, often enter the military as higher officers, or have accelerated promotions through the lower ranks.  Their advanced age, education, and rank often gives them credibility — even if it isn’t earned.  They, too, have been known to give military advice or guidance to commanders that is inconsistent with the law.

Which brings us to today.

Michael Weinstein, a former JAG himself, recently published a letter he received from a JAG:

I am an active duty Judge Advocate in the Air Force. I have been a financial supporter of MRFF since 2007…
I was browsing today at the Andrews Air Force Base Exchange after lunch when I came across the following two books respectively entitled “The Airman’s Bible,” and “The Soldier’s Bible…”

What is disturbing about these volumes is that they so prominently feature the Department of the Air Force and Army seals. I find such conspicuous violation of the Joint Ethics Regulations and the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution shocking.

It is a big step towards establishing the Holman Christian Standard Bible as the official religious text of the military services of the United States. I find it even more offensive that officials of AAFES have prominently displayed these books on the shelves of the BX of the home of our Commander in Chief.

It is appalling that the the [sic] symbols of our military services, that represent the millions of lives sacrificed to defend our Constitution and freedoms, are being co-opted in such blatant manner. The work of the MRFF to end this injustice is appreciated.

As was said, lawyers are fallible people, too, as this military JAG shows.  He admits the Bibles are published by Holman Bible Publishers, yet calls their existence a violation of the Constitution and US government Joint Ethics Regulations (JERs).  As has been highlighted here many times before, the Constitution restricts only the actions of the government, not its citizens.  In addition, as a non-governmental company, Holman is not bound by regulations controlling government operations.

It is possible the JAG poorly communicated his accusation, and meant to say the government shouldn’t allow Holman to use military symbols on its covers.  Whether the government does or not, the decision does not endorse religion, nor does it violate the Constitution or Joint Ethics Regulations — contrary to the lawyer’s implication.  If that is the case, it is an issue of commercial trademark, not the Constitution.

As to the JAG’s “offense” at the military exchange’s decision to carry the Bibles (at the home of Air Force One, as if it matters), it is no more an endorsement of their cover or content than its decision to carry pornography.

In the end, it seems as though a JAG with a predilection to Michael Weinstein’s cause found reason to be personally offended — over an issue that is nearly 7 years old.

Again, military officers can and do make errors, but that’s where training and mentorship come in.  Ideally, this JAG should have addressed this with his senior leadership, and they would have educated him on his errors.  (The fact he didn’t gives an indication of the lack of seriousness with which he takes his own claims.)  Failing that, it would have been nice to see Weinstein provide a little mentorship to the wayward attorney; however, since Weinstein chose to publish this letter under the heading of “Shocking Constitutional Violation,” it appears he continues in his own Constitutional ignorance.  In the end, the JAG made himself look a little foolish, if anonymously so.

This JAG isn’t the first or only to make similar errors.  A military lawyer recently advised a unit that it should not allow Bible studies either before or during duty hours in an unoccupied conference room.  Fortunately, the commander was wise enough to know the correct decision and allowed the Christian group to meet — a decision that, contrary to the lawyer’s advice, was consistent with governing US military regulations.  The lawyer, who was at his first assignment in the military, presumably received remedial training on the law as it applies to the military environment — including the religious freedom enjoyed even by military members.

There’s no “injustice” in a military symbol on a Bible in the Base Exchange.  Still, wayward JAGs, misguided Chaplains, and other troubled souls in the military aren’t proof of some super-secret conspiracy to take over the military and the world (despite what Weinstein’s group would have people think).  Even multiple JAGs dispensing incorrect or outright hostile advice toward religious freedom are not evidence of some institutional conspiracy (against Christianity) in the military.  (Contrary to another popular belief, individual officers do not make institutional military policy.)

In fact, the decisions by Commanders and military leadership in these cases to defend religious freedom, rather than overreact to the critics (or blindly listen to incorrect JAGs), are positive indicators of the spiritual and Constitutional climate in the military.  As has been said before, its not perfect, but it is generally admirable.

Should you see Chaplains, lawyers, or other officers like these make similar errors, you should first speak directly with them if you can.  It is entirely possible they don’t realize their own error.  Should that fail, you can refer them to their leadership for guidance, or, if necessary, speak with their leadership so they may be corrected.  It is ill-advised to do nothing, since the legitimacy of their military position may cause them to mislead others if they are not corrected. 

As always, you should also pray for them.  Chaplains, lawyers, and others like them have challenging positions in the military; whether they make an innocent error of fact or believe in wild conspiracy theories about religious takeovers, they are people, too.

The military-themed Bibles make excellent resources or gifts for those in the military.  They have clasp closures and are well-sized for utility uniform pockets.  Should you wish to purchase one for yourself or someone you know, they are available in Air Force, Army, Marine, Navy, and Coast Guard editions (as well as firefighter, police, and others).

If you’d like to become a military JAG, the application window is now open.