Tennessee State Rep Calls for Removing Muslims from Military

A few websites have noted Tennessee State Representative Rick Womick’s statement to ThinkProgress interviewers that Muslims should be removed from the US military.  The video is available on YouTube.

It’s worth noting Womick’s political position has been somewhat inflated in a few reports.  For example, ThinkProgress suffixed his name with (R-TN), as did some others, which is inaccurate.  The “party-state” designation is used for members of the US House; it is redundant to say “Tennessee state rep (R-TN).”  The more accurate description is (R-34) or R-Rockvale, as Womick represents District 34 in the Tennessee State House.  As a state representative, Womick has no influence over the US military.  (As an aside, Rep Womick was an F-15 fighter pilot during Operation Desert Storm.)

That said, his comments were widely reported and not well received (with one exception).  He’s been described as un-American and said to be “defaming all members of the military.”

Womick uses US Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan and PFC Naser Abdo (though he forgets his name) as support for his position, saying they are examples of the Islamic inconsistency with military service.

Ironically, it seems Rep Womick agrees with religious freedom critic Michael Weinstein in one regard.  Womick said

We are at war with al-Qaeda and the Taliban, who are Muslims…They are not allowed to kill their fellow Muslims…The only solution I see is that they not be allowed in the military.

This was precisely the position stated by Hasan.  Though Weinstein essentially blamed the Fort Hood massacre on Christians, he also blamed military leadership for allowing Hasan to continue to serve with that stated religious position:

If it is proven true that Hasan was advocating for Muslims to be excused from combat operations and other U.S. military service, then he should have been aggressively and immediately court-martialed.

Womick says Muslims should be removed from the US military, in part because he says the Koran dictates they cannot kill other Muslims who make up the adversaries in the Taliban and al Qaeda.  Weinstein says Muslims in the military who believe they shouldn’t have to fight other Muslims should be court-martialed.

Who knew Michael Weinstein would agree with someone whose comments CAIR calls “bigoted?”

To the point, Rep Womick’s comments are generally unfounded.  There is no reason to force members of a religious group out of military service because of one’s own interpretation of their beliefs.  To target a group of people based on their religion — absent any behavior or conduct inconsistent with military policy or the US Constitution — would violate the religious freedom of that group and would likely be unconstitutional.  This isn’t the first time this has been discussed.  Or even the second.

However, it is worth noting the caveat that religion is not a free-pass within the military, nor is military service a right (contrary to some prior claims by homosexuals).  A member of the Friends cannot show up at the military recruiter and demand to serve — while simultaneously claiming he is opposed to war.  At the same time, should a soldier in the processing line ask for dogtags that say Quaker, it is not the job of the military or the government to force them out of the service based on such a declaration.

In that regard, some of the comments by Rep Womick are not totally at odds with military policy.  If a Muslim in the US military refused to deploy to fight in a war because the majority religion of the opposing force was Islam, he likely would be “forced out of the military,” whether administratively or by court-martial, as Weinstein indicated.

It has been repeated here many times that conscientious objection, as currently dictated by policy, only recognizes moral objection to all war, not a particular war for a particular reason.  Interestingly enough, it appears PFC Abdo was the first US servicemember in recent history granted CO status precisely for his Islamic objection to fighting other Muslims.  (His request was reportedly initially denied, then approved at higher headquarters.)

As many have pointed out, there are military members of many faiths who serve faithfully and patriotically, even if their faiths are opposed to each other or in line with their adversaries’.  As already stated, if an individual’s conduct is inconsistent with military policy or US law, even if such conduct is religiously based, the military is right to act against them.  However, should the government take preemptive action based on an analysis of someone’s claimed faith group, irrespective of their stated positions or conduct, it would start to tread on tenuous liberty and Constitutional grounds.

Ironically, while some will likely claim Womick is an example of Christianity run amok, if you replace “Muslim” in Rep Womick’s video with “dominionist Christian,” the statements would not be too much unlike statements made by Richard Baker, formerly of Michael Weinstein’s MRFF, even in comments on this very site.  Likewise, Michael Weinstein has called Christianity in the US military a “national security threat” using similarly-themed language.

“Religious freedom” is a liberty historically held sacred in the American culture and even within the US military.  It is protected for all Americans, of all faiths, as it rightly should be.  Neither society nor the military are necessarily perfect in that regard, but the American model of religious freedom is still one to be emulated.