Congress Chides DoD on Response to Frivolous Complaints

A group of Congressmen has become the latest part of the government to take the US military to task for its apparent capitulation to external critics.  In this case, 23 members of the House signed a letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta concerning the removal of the DoD insignia from Holman Bibles, a “scandal” previously discussed.  The Congressmen said the issue was not that the seals were removed, but the fact the action was taken only because Michael Weinstein was bothered by it:

“The problem here is that it appears the decision made by DoD was in response to a manufactured, frivolous complaint,” [Congressman Alan] Nunnelee said.  “The military should not be succumbing to pressure from outside groups to alter longstanding policy.” 

The letter does not demand that permission to use the seals be returned; it is three paragraphs of concern over why it appears the US military keeps “bowing” to Michael Weinstein: 

We are alarmed by the appearance of the Department of Defense bowing to a third-party.

Finally, the Congressmen note what they think the military should be doing:

We are troubled by the fact that the Department of Defense has not clearly renounced these attempts and stated its intentions to preserve religious freedom in the military.

In other words, why placate the critic rather than tell them to pound sand and attempt to preserve religious freedom in the military?

Clarity on this issue is needed, and we look forward to your response on how the decision to revoke this trademark permission was made and what the Department of Defense is doing to ensure that the religious freedom of the members of our military is preserved and protected.

In all but one of the publicized cases, the US military has almost immediately “bowed” to the demands of Michael Weinstein or one of his allied critics who have complained about something being too “Christian” in its association with the military.  The sole exception was the Travis AFB Nativity; while it was not removed as Weinstein demanded, the Air Force did give special permission for the atheists to erect a display mocking the religious ones.

As the Congressmen aptly note, it does not appear the military has ever mentioned the virtues of the religious freedom of its troops — even as the actions it takes to placate critics seem to target the exercise of those freedoms.  The potential result is the perception of an environment hostile to religious freedom — a perception these and other Congressmen seem to be seeing.

An old Army First Sergeant giving a lesson on leadership once said he would always — always — defend his troops to his superiors.  He always assumed the best, not the worst, of his troops.  If it turned out his troops were in the wrong, he would rip them up one side and down the other, but he would still defend them to any outside critic.  They might not be perfect, but they were his boys.

This leadership trait bred two responses:

First, a tenacious sense of responsibility:  After all, no one wanted to bear the wrath of the First Sergeant.

Second, a uniquely intense respect for, and loyalty to, the First Sergeant: They knew Top would go to bat for them, and they didn’t want to put him in the position of trying to defend them if they were in the wrong.  They also knew that if someone tried to come after his troops without cause, he’d light into them like nobody’s business and defend them for the Soldiers they were.  First Sergeant always saw their virtues, even if they were temporarily obscured by a vice.  Because the troops knew the First Sergeant would go to bat for them, they wanted to perform for him.

There may be a lesson in there the military as a whole could use.

Text of the letter below (PDF):

The Honorable Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Room 3E880
Washington, D.C. 20301-1000
 
Dear Mr. Secretary:

We write today to express our concern over recent actions to remove military insignias from Bibles.  As you are aware, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) is claiming responsibility for the revocation of permission for B&H Publishing group to use official emblems on its military-themed Bibles.  While we are aware that each branch has replied individually to the MRFF, they did so on the same day with similar responses, and we are alarmed by the appearance of the Department of Defense bowing to a third-party.
 
Religious freedom is one the founding principles of our nation.  Enshrined in the First Amendment is the right for Americans to worship our creator without the obstruction of the government.  The brave men and women who have committed their lives to protect and defend the Constitution should surely be granted this fundamental opportunity.  We are frustrated by outside groups aiming to limit these protections, but we are troubled by the fact that the Department of Defense has not clearly renounced these attempts and stated its intentions to preserve religious freedom in the military.
 
Clarity on this issue is needed, and we look forward to your response on how the decision to revoke this trademark permission was made and what the Department of Defense is doing to ensure that the religious freedom of the members of our military is preserved and protected.  We appreciate your prompt attention to this matter.

Signatories:

  1. Alan Nunnelee (MS)
  2. Todd Akin (MO)
  3. Sandy Adams (FL)
  4. Roscoe Bartlett (MD)
  5. Paul Broun (GA)
  6. Ann Marie Buerkle (NY)
  7. Renee Ellmers (NC)
  8. Randy Forbes (VA)
  9. Gregg Harper (MS)
  10. Andy Harris (MD)
  11. Vicky Hartzler (MO)
  12. Randy Hultgren (IL)
  13. Tim Huelskamp (KS)
  14. Bill Johnson (OH)
  15. Walter Jones (NC)
  16. Mike Kelly (PA)
  17. John Kline (MN)
  18. James Lankford (OK)
  19. Doug Lamborn (CO)
  20. Jeff Miller (FL)
  21. Steven Palazzo (MS)
  22. Dennis Ross (FL)
  23. Lynn Westmoreland (GA)

14 comments

  • You seem to be confused. This was not an action of congress. It was an action of 23 congressmen.

  • 23 REALLY stupid congressmen. Exactly how do they think religious freedom is in anyway troubled by the removal of insignia from Bibles?

  • It’s just members of Rep. Randy Forbes’s Congressional Prayer Caucus. What JD is doing is the equivalent of saying that if members of the Congressional Beer Caucus (yes, there really is a Congressional Beer Caucus) says they like Budweiser, then the whole Congress has made an official statement in favor of Budweiser.

  • No confusion. You just failed to read past the first word of the title, as proven by your second comment.

    Further, the use of the term “congress” in the title in this manner is not uncommon. For example. And another. And another.

    Your insistence on discussing form rather than content is telling.

  • So I will address the content…the DoD was wrong to succumb to Mikey? I doubt that, they obviously agreed with him if the situation were true. What gives the Congressional Prayer Caucus the audacity to question the decisions of the SECDEF? Aren’t they [DoD] smart enough to make the decisions for the Military and don’t they have lawyers to advise them on situations like this?

    Why have the Secretary of the DoD if our other so-called leaders are going to micromanage him…only for matters of religion or faith that they seem to give hoot anyway.

    No wonder our leaders can’t lead this country, they are too busy trying to micromanage themselves. Nuts!

  • @watchtower

    they obviously agreed with him if the situation were true…

    You seem to be saying that by acceding to his demands, they are validating them.

    What gives the Congressional Prayer Caucus the audacity…

    You were too quick to assume Chris Rodda’s statement was all there was to it. Congressman Nunnelee is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, which has recently been writing the Defense Appropriations Bill — which means he has some recent and substantial input and oversight into the military. Besides, why does caucus membership automatically eliminate the validity of a group of sitting members of Congress asking for accountability from the military for whom they write the rules, budget, and authorizations?

    Why have the Secretary of the DoD if our other so-called leaders are going to micromanage him…

    Separation of powers. Checks and balances. Take your pick. In truth, the only branch of government that has given “deference” to the military has been the Judiciary.

    Your discussion of the content is appreciated.

  • These congressmen, all Republicans by the looks of it, are totally wrong when they say the DOD caved into Mikey. What the Defense Department did was to follow constitutional provision in the First Amendment which now contains the 1971 Supreme Court Lemon Vs. Kurzman ruling prohibiting government, including the armed forces and public education, from recommending, promoting, elevating, preferring or proselytizing one religion over another or religion over non-religion.

    An armed forces logo prominently displayed on a Christian Bible and distributed to military personnel would have been a direct endorsement of Christianity by the military and a glaring constitutional violation.

    Efforts by Weinstein to curb such violations are not to prevent the practice of Christianity in the armed forces but rather to prevent militant Christianity from dominating in the military to the exclusion of other religious beliefs.

  • @Richard
    According to them, they did nothing of the sort. If your statement is so obvious, why isn’t the US government saying their actions were based on the Constitution?

    You know, using the phrase “constitutional provision” does add a bit of gravitas to your standard spiel, but it makes it no more credible. Since you’re so fixated on SCOTUS rulings, you should try reading something more recent than 1971.

    You do realize the Supreme Court has modified or ignored Lemon since then, right?

  • @JD
    I think you are splitting hairs. I am aware of no Supreme Court modification of the lemon test and would be grateful if you provied a link to such changes. Whether this ruling is ignored by the court or not, it is still case law on the books and if presented as the main complaint instead of an ancillary would still have function.

    But let us examine this situation without the legalities and based only on what would be considered fair and right. An endorsement of Christianity by the Armnd Forces would soon alienate troops of differing religious beliefs. Uprisings would be possible and great disturbances in the ranks would result. Despite its majority, Christianity is recognized as only one of many religions and has no more force in power than Judaism or Paganism.

    Inter-religious squabbles would disrupt discipline and good order resulting in a number of small but potent mutinys. Common sense as well as the law tells us that the equality of religions is vital in a military setting.

  • @Richard
    Try Agostini v Felton, in which the Supreme Court overturned its own prior use of the Lemon test.

    Its disingenuous to claim an authoritative position and then cry “splitting hairs” when someone uses facts to undermine your position.

    it is still case law on the books and if presented as the main complaint…

    You really don’t understand how the judiciary works, do you? By that logic, Plessy v Ferguson would still be “case law on the books.” Try looking that one up. And there’s no such thing as presenting a “Lemon test complaint.” The case in question would likely be accusations of a violation of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has used a variety of “tests,” precedents, and perspectives — some completely in opposition to others — to analyze such complaints. The Lemon test was just one.

    The rest of your criticism hinges on what constitutes “endorsement.” You seem to think anything does. While predictable, that position is inconsistent with the Constitution.

    Uprisings would be possible…

    …and out comes the tin foil hat.

  • Tin foil hats to the contrary, many Christians are today poised on he brink of violence in exercising the “Great Commission.” The Dominionist movement is inexorably engaged in the most massive evangelical project in American history. Goaded by mindless Christian leaders, many in command positions in the armed forces are redoubling their efforts to proselytize our young men and women with the goal of forming an all-Christian fighting force which has the skill and opportunity to deploy weapons of immense destructive power to achieve world conquestg and thereby world Christian conversion.

    Is it any wonder that the Supreme Court may be relaxing its prior zeal at religious hegemony in the military when at least two of the Justices are committed Fascists?

  • godlessveteran

    The only frivolous complaint is the one submitted by the 23 House members who have violated their oath to uphold the Constitution.

  • @godlessveteran
    You appear to have forgotten about Article I Section 8 of the US Constitution you are claiming they are violating.

    That you disagree with something does not make it unconstitutional.

  • @JD
    For a Congressional prayer caucus to use their goverment identification to promote their Christian beliefs is a blight on the constitution. It is unAmerican and recalls the Christian dominance of W.W.II in Europe and the Nazi accord with Pope Pus XII in 1933 which condemned millions Jews to death in concentration camps.

    Personal comments by individuals of a certain religion is perfectly legitimate. A religious group under Congressional letterhead is unacceptable.

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