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.

Attending were:

  • 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,, 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.



  • Weinstein is correct on the demographics. 25%-30% of military members list “No Religious Preference.” Another large chunk list “Christian–No Preference,” or “Protestant–No Preference.” Only about 4% go to any religious services. That’s true on deployment as well as in garrison, and has been consistent since the 1940s.

    • @BC
      Weinstein is incorrect, because he equates a military demographic selection of “no religious preference” with a person “shar[ing] no faith whatsoever.” He’s using the same misrepresentation Torpy wrote up years ago that said NRP was the same as non-theist.

      You can say lots of things about those numbers, but it is dishonest to say NRP is the same as “no faith” or non-theist.

  • I think Berry bringing up the fact that revisions that have been made have not been implemented into training for JAG and Commanding officers was something that should have been focused on more. There’s obviously a disconnect somewhere and it shouldn’t be taking an act of Congress to fixed it. It’s like having to hold someone’s hand and coddle them through this. Maybe you can clarify more but if a service member goes outside their CoC to a non-profit without first utilizing resources available through the military (EO, IG, JAG, etc) and it leads to that non-profit using that service member to gain publicity which harms the military or personnel in the military, shouldn’t that service member at least receive a counseling statement on the proper procedures for addressing grievances?

    • @JHeap
      A little shameless self-promotion isn’t always bad, but you might have acknowledged the view you found “interesting” was the one you wrote.

  • No religious preference (NRP) has been the de-facto identification on dog tags to indicate Atheism, non-religious, or ‘none of your business’ by a wide margin and for many years; there is no dishonesty or misrepresentation to say so either. Although NPR “might” (and I highly doubt it) indicate just plan christian (not jewish, protestant or catholic et al), most will agree the de-facto, e.g. non-religious etc. is by far the norm.

    And, going thru the ‘chain-of-comand’ so to speak is the proverbial joke in all of DoD; to seek assistance for/from anything or all thing religious. Unfortunately the religious majority is making the rules in these cases and anyone that disagrees might as well forget it…or go outside the CoC and not suffer any consequences for doing so. We all know this is true but many won’t admit it.

    • @watchtower
      You are correct about the honesty of the statement you made, assuming you acknowledge that “none of your business” can include anyone, religious or not. Thus, the honest statement cannot be used to support religious or areligious demographics.

      most will agree the de-facto, e.g. non-religious etc. is by far the norm.

      How can you determine a “norm” for a group that has no further breakdown? You are free to assume anything you want, of course. But it is dishonest to assert that you have data to support your assumption.

      That’s the point: Weinstein, Torpy, et al, when using “no religious preference” to bolster their numbers, are making up their “facts.” As a chaplain once noted, Jews in the US military used to favor NRP to obscure their religion when deployed. Nidal Malik Hasan had NRP in his records.

      The data supports saying NRP is made up of all kinds, but it provides no information on the numbers of NRP who have any particular theological beliefs. To assert the opposite is to promote a falsehood.

    • Wait, what’s the joke cause I didn’t get it! We sought assistance for Rock Beyond Belief and got that and for meetings on installations and got that and getting Humanism recognized and got that. Maybe you just don’t know anything outside of what these non-profits tell you because you aren’t actually communicating with anyone in the military. I’m not trying to be snide but you just sound like you’re repeating what you’ve been told and you don’t even know why. It’s disrespectful to people that are or have worked WITH the military and have gotten things done instead of trying to get coverage in the media all the time.

  • Sorry, JD, but that’s your bias. What about Sikhs? What about Rastafarians? What about….