Update: New Religious Liberty Policies and Anti-Semitism

The Deseret News carries its own commentary by Amy Choate-Nielsen on the recent changes to the DoD’s rules requiring religious accommodation. Interestingly, it uses two Jewish Soldiers as the central points of its article — even though the two have nothing to do with the policy changes:

For [Michael] Handman, the new NDAA law comes too late. Five years ago, the private was called derogatory names because of his faith, ordered to remove his yarmulke and rebuked for reading Jewish canon. Then, a few days after his letter home, on Sept. 24, 2008, Handman was lured into a laundry room and beaten to the point of unconsciousness, an Associated Press story says.

That story was discussed in detail here at the time. Retired US Navy CAPT Neil Block was a local lay leader brought in to advise. Both he and the Army determined there was no intent to mistreat Handman because he was Jewish, and the Anti-Defamation League was happy with the outcome.

Because of his efforts, CAPT Block received a special dose of vitriol from Michael “Mikey” Weinstein.  The Georgia NAACP, which had written a joint letter with Weinstein criticizing Block, ultimately retracted its criticism. Weinstein never mentioned that, nor did he retract his own.

The paper likely got the story of Handman from Weinstein, as the second anecdote clearly came from him:

In 2012, another Jewish soldier was harassed on the job…

The [soldier] said of negative treatment he received after he complained that his supervisor had ordered him to read the Bible in 24 hours and accept Jesus after the supervisor found out he was Jewish. “I was ready to quit the Army and leave and never come back. I couldn’t wear my yarmulke, I wasn’t allowed to have Kosher (meals). I was told, ‘We don’t want you around.’ ”

This incident has never been made public, so it is impossible to verify. If this anonymous report is completely true, however, it is also completely wrong. No member of the military should be ordered by their superior to read a religious text, convert to their religion, or be denied the already-approved accoutrements of their faith — and, with some allowance for precise details, that would almost certainly violate current US military regulations.  There’s no disagreement there.

But again, the policy change had nothing to do with either of those stories. Both contained details that were already contrary to the policy in place, and the policy changes would have had no impact on those incidents.  Again, in the first incident (which was publicly investigated), the Army determined it was ignorance, not a religious “hate crime.”  The second incident is known only to Weinstein — who doesn’t always display the highest level of integrity in some of his storytelling.

Why a report on the military policy change contained stories irrelevant to those policies is unclear, other than naïveté or laziness on the part of the reporter.

This is particularly notable when the reporter uses undefined observers as support for her statements [emphasis added]:

Handman was later transferred to another unit for his own protection, and the soldier who attacked him was discharged, but some say the conditions of the incident — a ritualistic military culture that favors Evangelical Christianity — never changed, and similar discrimination continues today.

The only “some” that says Handman’s incident had anything to do with a “military culture that favors Evangelical Christianity” — is Weinstein, whom the reporter cites throughout:

Weinstein blames religious intolerance in the military on a “Christian Taliban” of “fundamentalist Christians” run amok…

Weinstein advocates that commanders not place Bibles on their desktops because it might intimidate their subordinates.

Notably, the reporter did include a redeeming and more balanced view, quoting Daniel Blomberg of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty:

Individuals in the military should respect one another, even if their religious views differ, Blomberg says. Those who are offended by differing religions shouldn’t need to get the government involved to resolve their differences, he said, “Religious liberty means we agree to disagree and treat people in a respectful way.”

True liberty will, by definition, engender disagreement — and that’s ok. Stifling liberty under the guise of squashing disagreement ultimately serves neither. Blomberg had a valuable perspective:

“A good test is, at the end of the day, are you creating more liberty for other people, or are you trying to shut down liberty for other people?” Blomberg said. “If you are creating more liberty, you’re going in the right direction.”

Despite Weinstein’s attacks on what the article calls “Evangelical Christianity,” the US military is now presumably erring on the side of liberty — as required by the law passed by Congress.