Religious Hostility toward Christians Hurting US Military
It started with a statement by Michael Berry, a former Marine JAG and now counsel with the Liberty Institute, cited in the Washington Times regarding the prosecution of US Navy Chaplain Wes Modder:
Michael Berry…said recent high-profile cases of military chaplains facing punishment for private counseling sessions that reflected the teachings of their religion could cause devout Americans who are qualified for military service to think twice about joining the military.
That statement has now been paraphrased across the internet to say “Christians are leaving the military” or there is “an exodus of Christians from the military.” The Washington Times article itself says US military “morale [and] retention [have been] devastated.”
To be accurate, that isn’t exactly what Berry said. Further, while the current perception of the US military’s attitude toward religious freedom has certainly impacted both recruitment and retention, support for that conclusion is entirely anecdotal. As has been said here before, the plural of anecdote is not “data.”
Still, Berry’s original statement is not unreasonable. His assessment even found its way into an interview with potential Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who said that the Obama “administration has had an open hostility toward the Christian faith” [emphasis added]:
when you have a president whose administration orders its chaplains to put its Bibles away, not to pray in Jesus’ name, not to counsel people on the issues of sexual morality; when you have this attitude that is more about promoting gay marriage and gay rights in the military than it is about being able to protect religious liberty for those people of faith, it’s going to be hard to find people that are truly devoted people of faith and Christian believers and Orthodox Jews and others. Why would they want to be in a military that would be openly hostile and not just simply bring some scorn to their faith, but would punish them for it?”
With these reasonable conclusions beginning to gain steam across media outlets, a couple of critics spoke up to “debunk” the claims of hostility toward military religious freedom. After extensively quoting the Washington Times article, liberal FoxNews voice Alan Colmes offered only a single sentence reply:
Yes, because, mandatory Christian training should not be part of the military, nor should bigotry.
Rather than counter the argument, his statement is actually one with which religious freedom advocates would agree. The military shouldn’t have mandatory Christian training, or mandatory training of any other religious kind, or training that is anti– any of those religions. There should also not be bigotry within the military environment — including bigotry against people who hold religious beliefs.
Of course, Colmes meant to imply that the military was rightly restricting inappropriate behavior on the part of Christians within its ranks. However, like Hemant Mehta, an atheist blogger at Patheos, he relied upon a straw man. Mehta started his blog by saying
You know who has it really rough in the military?
Christians. Because I guess the ones in power can’t impose their beliefs on everyone else.
Mehta later said
Mike Huckabee claims the military is too anti-Christian because Christians chaplains aren’t allowed to make life worse for people who don’t agree with them.
Both of those are false arguments. Nothing in the current controversy has anything to do with forced Christian training, or support for bigotry within the ranks, or the imposition of beliefs on anyone.
In fact, nothing in the current controversy is new.
Since the repeal of the policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” advocates for troops of faith have foretold a collision of religious liberty and sexual liberty. That collision has actually already occurred several times, though this marks the first time that the story has gained significant attention.
Even now, the American culture is experiencing the collision between constitutionally-protected religious liberty and the advocacy of erotic freedom. The military reflects the society from which it is drawn — meaning it, too, is seeing the tension between religious rights and sexual social advocacy.
To date, the perception is the military has favored sexual liberty over religious liberty — something advocated by President Obama’s appointee to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Chai Feldblum.
Religious freedom advocates are now pressing the military to justify restricting a constitutionally protected freedom, and given the explosion in press coverage, the controversy has legs.
Can a military Chaplain or officer state his religious beliefs that “homosexuality is a sin?” More than one military member has been chastised for that very statement, including Chaplain Modder. The outcome of Modder’s appeals could finally publicize the military’s official position on such religious expression.