Congressional Hearing on Military Religious Freedom, Hostility
As previously noted, the House Armed Services subcommittee on personnel invited five civilian witnesses to provide testimony on the state of religious freedom in the US military last Wednesday.
- Michael Berry, Liberty Institute attorney who acted on behalf of cadets at the US Air Force Academy this year
- Retired Chaplain (Col) Ron Crews, an outspoken advocate for military religious freedom
- Travis Weber, Director of the Family Research Council’s Center for Religious Liberty, US Naval Academy graduate and former Naval aviator.
- Rabbi Bruce Kahn, a retired Navy Captain and Chaplain, a founding member of the Equal Rights Center, and an advocate for homosexual “rights.”
- Michael “Mikey” Weinstein, founder and sole employee of his Military Religious Freedom Foundation, engaged in a self-described “war” against Christians in the US military.
Contrary to some predictions, it wasn’t really a contentious meeting. What the hearing did reveal was the committee members were fairly (perhaps surprisingly) knowledgeable on the controversy of religious freedom in the military. There were also some astute questions by the committee members as well as excellent answers by the witnesses.
For example, ranking Democrat Congresswoman Susan Davis of California asked the panel of witnesses if recent changes by the US military had clarified religious policies in the services — to which Mikey Weinstein replied they’d created a “tsunami of confusion.” Chaplain Crews, ideologically opposed to Weinstein but apparently a personal friend, actually agreed, saying that the law expressing the intent of Congress — passed two years ago — still hadn’t worked its way into the field.
Congressman John Fleming of Lousiana also publicly undermined the only argument made by Mikey Weinstein the entire day [emphasis added]:
Now, I hear the word “proselytizing” being bandied back. We’ve discussed this many times. I’ve yet to hear one member of Congress say that we should have a law that allows or promotes in any way proselytizing. No one has an interest in that. That becomes simply a straw man argument, something to argue against that really doesn’t exist.
Congressman Randy Forbes of Virginia similarly did an excellent job of highlighting Weinstein’s straw man [emphasis added]:
These individuals are stating what they believe, and based on that, we’re calling that coercion, and then we’re starting to restrict that kind of freedom of expression and belief. Nobody is defending an individual trying to proselytize or coerce. We’re simply trying to say we need a protection. Just because you wear a uniform doesn’t mean that you no longer have your right to express your freedom of your faith.
To that point, Weinstein and another witness, Rabbi Kahn, repeatedly emphasized the danger of superiors coercing their subordinates into religious belief. (The Jewish Daily Forward characterized their testimony as “Jewish Veterans Oppose Sectarian Prayer in Military.”) Not only did more than one congressman make clear that’s not what anyone wants, but Weinstein and Kahn also failed to present a single example of their bogeyman ever actually happening. In fact, despite his long-running cries of the “national security threat” Christians cause by their presence in the US military, Weinstein has never provided a single verifiable example of coercive proselytizing by a superior officer.
What Weinstein has done, as Congressman Forbes astutely recognized, is tried to redefine the word “coerce” to try to stigmatize any mere expression of religious belief on the part of uniformed troops. In a manner of speaking, Weinstein is trying to covertly move the goal posts: Get everyone to agree that “religious coercion” is bad, and then redefine “religious coercion” to target religious beliefs he doesn’t like.
(Congressman Forbes also got Weinstein to publicly admit — and stand by — his violence-laden “sucking chest wounds” quote and his hate-filled descriptions of Christians as “monsters.”)
Congressman Fleming also clearly articulated why Congress had passed the specific wordings of the laws it had over the past few years regarding religious liberty in the US military:
The prior language said that military members were permitted to believe what they wanted to believe. Well, that’s not what the First Amendment says. The First Amendment talks about speech, it talks about expression. Government can’t keep you from believing anything anyway…The crux of the matter is always in expression.
Weinstein did get a little press coverage when he talked over Congressman Forbes and condescended to him, something that he frequently does with interviewers or in debates when he wants to try to recapture the narrative. Condescending to a sitting member of Congress during a hearing, though, just made Weinstein look disrespectful and gratuitosly combative.
Congressman Fleming — whom Weinstein and his assistant Chris Rodda abhor — also managed to school Weinstein, on the record: Early on, Weinstein had said “some people say” that nearly a quarter of the US military “shares no faith whatsoever.” An hour later as the hearing closed, Congressman Fleming, for the record, pointed out that actual military demographics disagreed:
What [the data] actually showed was its 4% humanist, the closest it came to atheist, and 12.1% were no religious affiliation reported. That is a trend in the evangelical world…where many people now say they are evangelical or they’re not attached to any specific denomination. So that’s really a misrepresentation of what the real percentages are…
This is the same misrepresentation that was pointed out here years ago, and Congressman Fleming has called it out before. It’s good to see that Congress has a grasp of the truth, despite Weinstein’s attempts to miscontrue the facts. That Weinstein has to do so demonstrates the weakness of his position and the desperation of his cause.
Though Weinstein had hyped the hearing before it occurred, he later called it a
“charade” that was a “despicable example of Christian exceptionalism and supremacy.”
Because everything Mikey doesn’t like is “Christian exceptionalism and supremacy.”
The hearing was streamed live and the video is available online, though it is more than an hour long, and the unedited archival video includes an hour or so of silence during an adjournment.
Also covered at the Military Times, Stars and Stripes, Charisma News, OneNewsNow, CBN News, the Religion Clause, Military.com, BizPac Review, the Family Research Council, the Christian News Network, CNS News, and the Associated Press. Documents submitted for the record can be viewed here.