US Military Clarifies Religious Freedom Policy. Again.
For the third time in a week, the US military released a statement attempting to articulate the DoD’s policy on religious freedom. In response to multiple media questions, LtCmdr Nathan Christensen issued the following statement [emphasis added]:
There is no DOD wide policy that directly addresses religious proselytizing. Furthermore, there is no effort within the department to make religious proselytizing a specific offense within the UCMJ, including under Article 134.
Service members may exercise their rights under the 1st Amendment regarding the free exercise of religion unless doing so adversely affects good order, discipline, or some other aspect of the military mission; even then, the Department seeks a reasonable religious accommodation for the service member. In general, service members may share their faith with other service members, but may not forcibly attempt to convert others of any faith or no faith to their own beliefs.
Concerns about these issues are handled on a case by case basis by the leaders of the unit involved.
In other words, the prior statement that did try to “directly address religious proselytizing” is…retracted?
The statement essentially reverts the DoD from the “new” (first, “uncomfortable,” then evangelism vs proselytizing) back to the “old” more vague policy — the military is required to accommodate religious exercise, and restrict it only out of military necessity. This statement does still seem to say that sharing of faith is not restricted; only harassment is restricted, a policy with which every organization responding to this issue has agreed.
Of note, the prior statement (evangelism vs proselytizing) directly contradicted Air Force legal guidance issued just last fall. From The Military Commander and the Law (a non-regulatory legal handbook for commanders, which includes Weinstein Guidance and covers ‘religious blogs’), says [emphasis added]
“Evangelizing” (sharing one’s faith) and “proselytizing” (inducing someone to convert to one’s faith or cause) are free exercises of religion, and cannot be singled out for special restrictions not applicable to non-religious speech. For example, just as it is not wrong to share one’s passion for sports there is nothing wrong with an Airman sharing his/her faith or inviting another co-worker to attend his/her place of worship.
Take note of that Air Force legal opinion, as it is apparently now back in force: So long as Airmen are allowed to invite each other to a football game, they are also allowed to invite each other to church.
Despite responding three times (in three different ways) to questions about military policy, the DoD has yet to respond once to multiple queries about why Michael Weinstein merited a meeting with top Air Force leaders, or even why it tried to articulate a policy to address an apparently non-existent problem.