JFW: The Religious Rights of Those in Uniform

The Journal of Faith and War has published a lengthy set of articles on “The Religious Rights of those in Uniform.”  The series was written by Jay Sekulow and Robert Ash.  Dr. Sekulow is chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (and debated Michael Weinstein at the US Air Force Academy in 2007).  Robert Ash (USA, Retired) is a West Point graduate, served 22 years in the Army, and teaches law at Regent University.

The articles originally appeared as “Religious Rights and Military Service” in Attitudes Aren’t Free: Thinking Deeply about Attitudes in the US Armed Forces, which contained the infamous article by Chris Rodda denigrating the celebration of Easter by Christians in the military.

The publication is a refreshingly positive perspective on what men and women of faith can do while serving in the US military.  So often critics have emphasized (or created an environment focused on) impermissible conduct; as a result, some military members (or religious persons considering military service) may assume their religious exercise is restricted.

That is not the case, as the JFW articles show.

The first article covers the “General Legal Principles” forming the foundation of future discussions.  It has a fascinating take on the oft-heated debate over “separation of church and state” — which starts with an astute observation:

Rather than wasting time trying to determine the meaning of a phrase that does not exist in the Constitution, time would be better spent determining what the drafters of the First Amendment meant by “establishment of religion,” a phrase that does exist in the Constitution.

The article then uses US Supreme Court cases to help communicate what the First Amendment was intended to mean by those who created it and lived under it in the late 18th century.

This is the first article in the series that will cover

(1) the importance of the free exercise of religion to developing and strengthening the warrior ethos;
(2) the role and responsibility of military commanders and other leaders in maintaining and protecting the moral and spiritual health of their units, including protecting the free exercise rights of the men and women they lead;
(3) the general role of chaplains in assisting commanders in executing the commanders’ programs to protect and assist free exercise of religion and the role of the individual chaplain in meeting the unique needs of service members from the individual chaplain’s own faith group while assisting adherents of other faith groups, and of no faith, to obtain the specific help they may be seeking;
(4) the rights enjoyed by all members of the armed forces to exercise their faith;
(5) specific examples of permissible religious exercise in the military;
(6) specific examples of impermissible religious conduct in uniform; and
(7) recommendations to policy makers on how to protect the religious rights of men and women in uniform while maintaining good order and discipline.


  • Just for the record, here’s the passage from my “infamous article … denigrating the celebration of Easter,” which was actually a chapter in a book published by the Air Force’s Air University. What I was talking about was the contrast between the policies put in place in Saudi Arabia in 1990 by General Norman Schwarzkopf to keep the troops safe (which JD apparently disagrees with), and what’s going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. Easter is not mentioned in this passage of my chapter. A footnote at the end of the passage is a link to a photo, used as an example. This particular photo was of large, highly visible crosses erected by soldiers at Easter, which is exactly the kind of thing that General Schwarzkopf, and the chaplains in his command in 1990, thought would put our troops in danger. In no way did I denigrate the celebration of Easter. Nor do I think that service members should be stopped from celebrating religious holidays. Please read what I actually wrote:

    “As Gen Norman Schwarzkopf recounted in his autobiography, It Doesn’t Take a Hero, back in 1990, when US troops were deployed to Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield, an attempt by a Christian missionary organization to use the military to proselytize Saudi Muslims led the Pentagon to issue strict guidelines on religious activities and displays of religion in the region. It was left to the discretion of individual company commanders to determine how visible religious services should be, depending on their particular location’s proximity to Saudi populations. In some cases, decisions were made not to display crucifixes or other religious symbols, even at worship services. There were a few complaints about these decisions, but the majority of the troops willingly complied, understanding that these decisions were being made for their own security. According to General Schwarzkopf, even his request that chaplains refrain from wearing crosses on their uniforms received an unexpectedly positive reaction, with the chaplains not only agreeing with the policy, but also going a step further by calling themselves “morale officers” rather than chaplains.

    “But now, in Iraq and Afghanistan, General Schwarzkopf’s commonsense policies and priority of keeping the troops safe have been replaced by a flaunting of Christianity by Christian troops and chaplains who feel that nothing comes before their right to exercise their religion, even if it means putting the safety of their fellow troops at risk. Numerous photos, some posted on official military Web sites, show conspicuously displayed Christian symbols, such as large crosses, being erected on and around our military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

  • @Chris Rodda
    To be accurate, you published the material — and the photo — on the internet months before it came out in Attitudes Aren’t Free.

    Don’t sell yourself short, either; you left out the header for your section on “Top 10 Ways to Convince the Muslims We’re on a Crusade”:

    8. Plant crosses in Muslim lands and make sure they’re big enough to be visible from really far away.

    So, as noted last year, you claim the celebration of Easter by Christians in the military while deployed in combat makes Muslims think the US military is on a crusade and endangers US military lives — while you simultaneously ignored the Jewish Sukkahs and pagan bonfires by their fellow troops.

    If you don’t think that’s denigration of the celebration of Easter by Christians in the military, you’ve got a funny definition of “religious freedom.” But, then, everybody can already see that…

    Nor do I think that service members should be stopped from celebrating religious holidays.

    You didn’t say that in the article, nor in the year since. Why bother bringing the “danger” of their celebrations up at all if you don’t think they should stop?

  • So, I was asked by the editors of the book to include a version of something I had originally written as an article. What difference does that make?

    Instead of evading the point with which came first, the article or the book chapter, why don’t you address the point — that General Schwarzkopf said that displays of Christianity by American troops in a Muslim country (even those much less visible than the examples in my article and/or book chapter) put our troops in danger. I want to see you say flat out, right here, that you disagree with what General Schwarzkopf said. Do you have the guts to do that?

  • @Chris Rodda

    What difference does that make?…

    You brought it up (and misstated the facts when you did so), so it must have made some difference to you.

    “The point that came first” was an effort to bring attention to a set of well-written articles on religious freedom in the military.

    Your issue was addressed more than a year ago (thus, the link). If you’ve missed the half-dozen links to it so far, read it at this link. In the comments there you’ll find further responses to your comment.

  • Why did you move my comment to the comments section on your year-and-a-half old post, JD? I want to see you answer my question here in the comments on this post. My name is coming up in places like Google when people search on my name because you mentioned me in THIS post, not your old post, so I want you to answer my question HERE where anybody seeing what you’re saying about me can also see how I’m responding.

    I want to see you say flat out, right HERE, in the comments on THIS post, that you think that General Schwarzkopf’s decision not to “wave a red flag in the face of religious extremists,” as he put it, was wrong. Do you think that General Schwarzkopf’s policy regarding religious services, which was “we won’t advertise them, publicize them, or let them be filmed — we don’t want them broadcast on TV for the whole Moslem world to see,” was wrong?

    This is a simple yes or no question, JD. Don’t you have the guts to answer it?

  • Are you really moving Ms. Rodda’s comments to silence her? Honestly, if Christians followed the teachings of Jesus, there would be no need for non-believers or people of other faiths to form organisations to protect their rights to freedom of speech, guaranteed us by the forefathers.

    Regardless of anyone’s position, yours should be to love and forgive, not attack and slander. I feel embarrassed for you and your ilk.

    This is how HE said it should be done.

    “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
    But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

    Jesus speaking to his disciples in Matthew, chapter 6

  • Prayer should be vertical, toward one’s god – not horizontal, just so others can see. And in the case of fighting on the soil of Muslims, such horizontal prayer threatens the soldiers and threatens the mission. Imagine if our country was occupied by Muslims who we touting the superiority of their religion?

  • @jenz mandu

    Are you really moving Ms. Rodda’s comments to silence her?

    Um, no. You might consider reading the discussion above.

    @Chris Rodda

    My name is coming up in places like Google…

    You’re concerned about Google? This is about your treatment of the religious freedom of US troops deployed to war.

    If you choose to ignore responses to your comments, that’s your decision. You are apparently concerned about people web-searching your name and finding this article. Well, now they’ll see your reaction and come to their own conclusion.

    Given the juvenile nature of your response, you don’t seem to have done yourself any favors.

  • Ken,

    There are Muslims who tout the superiority of their religion, and some do live here. Besides, my understanding of Muslims (based on some cultural reading) is that most Muslims respect, while they disagree, with someone of faith. Their biggest problem with America is not the religion; it’s the perceived lack of morality. I dare you to find an institution in America, larger than the Church, that aims to improve the morals of Americans (specifically charity, cleanliness, faithfulness to a spouse).

    Horizontal prayer is not restricted to those prayers ‘just so others can see.’ Public prayer for the sake of showing off is wrong, but public prayer to help others worship (sermons, songs, dramas, humble personal prayers) is a good thing.

  • Yes, I check Google, JD. I check every morning for what’s being said about MRFF, Mikey, and me — both good and bad. If anyone is lying about us, it is of concern to the foundation. Most people searching my name are looking for stuff about my other work outside of MRFF, but since your obsession with MRFF includes lying about me by name, these people are finding your blog. Since I am speaking for MRFF when I write or say anything about the foundation, I need to correct your lies about what I have said so that people inadvertently finding your blog when searching my name for other reasons know that what you are saying about MRFF is not true. So, I want people to see my responses. There is nothing “juvenile” about this.

  • @ Dealer … But those Muslim Americans are not representing the United States government. Our troops in foreign countries are.

  • @Chris Rodda said

    I need to correct your lies…

    You seem to have joined Weinstein in the “pants on fire” defense, which hasn’t done much for you to date.

    The only substantive comment you made here was

    In no way did I denigrate the celebration of Easter.

    The original article reached the opposite conclusion, and supported it with your words. That you disagree with the conclusion does not make it invalid.

    Other than saying “no I didn’t,” you’ve done nothing to rebut (or “correct”) the position presented in the original article. Feel free to do so there.

  • Still waiting for an answer to my question, JD. In case you forgot what it was, here it is again:

    I want to see you say flat out, right here, that you think that General Schwarzkopf’s decision not to “wave a red flag in the face of religious extremists,” as he put it, was wrong. Do you think that General Schwarzkopf’s policy regarding religious services, which was “we won’t advertise them, publicize them, or let them be filmed — we don’t want them broadcast on TV for the whole Moslem world to see,” was wrong?

    Very simple, JD. Is your answer yes or no? Do you or do you not think that General Schwarzkopf’s decision was wrong?

  • Chris,

    Are you suggesting that troops in foreign countries only worship privately?

    Side note: I would need more information about the General’s decision to answer. Commands should be quoted verbatim to ensure the commander’s intent is accurately transmitted. It’s not semantics; just a reality of military order.

  • Dealer … I am saying that General Schwarzkopf said that he told Christian and Jewish troops in a Muslim country to only worship privately. He says very clearly in his autobiography that this is EXACTLY what he did.

    So, I’m asking JD a simple yes of no question of whether or not he thinks General Schwarzkopf was wrong to do this. But JD refuses to answer the question. Is JD afraid to publicly state that he thinks a 4-star general was wrong? Or will he man up for Jesus and have the guts to answer?

  • Chris,

    Are you saying that the General told everyone to worship individually, in the privacy of their rooms or to restrict the discussion of the events to only people on the base, as in what happens on base stays on the base, or to limit the discussion when talking to non-Americans? Significant differences between the three, yet all could fit the varying descriptions of the order found in your words here.

  • Dealer … what part of “we won’t advertise them, publicize them, or let them be filmed — we don’t want them broadcast on TV for the whole Moslem world to see” are you having a problem understanding?

    The troops had religious services, but they did not display crosses or other overtly religious symbols — even at their religious services. The General even asked the chaplains to remove their crosses from their uniforms when they were in areas populated with Muslims. It’s all right there in his autobiography if you want to read it for yourself.

  • “I dare you to find an institution in America, larger than the Church…” – there is NO “Church” institution in America – there is a patchwork of hundreds of sects – and many are not effective at improving morals of America. For the net effect, one need only compare the religiousity of America and the corresponding social health of other modern industrialized nations. But this not the issue. The issue is the conspicuous religiousity of a government. Handing out Bibles, Biblical references on weapons, denigrating religious texts, respect for prisoners – if the “church” is effective at charity and compassion and goodness, then let that be conspicuously on the sleeve of the military, not a Christian Cross.

  • Ken,

    Read only the parts of my post that work for your argument, don’t answer the question, then assign government action to things that the government didn’t do = not a convincing argument.

    I deliberately said “aims to” because there is work the Church needs to do to improve it’s effectiveness.

    Denigrating religious texts and Biblical references on weapons were not from the government. By in large we have respect for prisoners. There have been cases where we haven’t, but compared to the norm in that region, we are doing well.

    You didn’t answer the question. I guessing because you can’t.

  • Chris,

    Again, worshiping privately has a wide range of interpretations, from don’t let it leave your bunk to don’t let it leave your base. As long as the service member’s right to worship wasn’t impeded, then I don’t really care if the General restricted the services to keep the outside world from knowing. Were advertisements to the troops halted? Was the right for them to worship interfered with? You haven’t answered those questions.

  • Very good, Dealer, then you clearly disagree with JD. Glad to hear it.

  • And, JD, I’m still waiting for you to give a yes or no answer to my question in comment #13.

  • Well, I guess JD doesn’t have the guts to answer my question. Not that I’m surprised.