Column: Military Chapels Not Barred from Evangelism
Nathan Newman, an Air Force Reserve Officer and George C. Marshall Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, responded to an article in the Colorado Springs Gazette by Tom Roeder discussing the (previously discussed) 4-year closure of the US Air Force Academy Chapel.
In it, Roeder had said:
Religion is a big deal at the academy and other military bases but not for the reasons one might suspect. The services are barred from evangelism, and promotion of faith is restricted, but the academy like the rest of the military must care for the religious needs of troops under federal law.
In the guest column, Newman responded:
The religious services at the academy and the chaplains who serve those religious rites are not barred from evangelism. Chaplains serving cadets in this capacity are not restricted from promoting their faith. In fact, they would be erring in their duty if they were not acting in accordance with their religious endorsers.
Newman is absolutely correct — but one has to wonder if Roeder poorly articulated “Services,” and meant the Armed Services, not “religious services.” Were that the case, Roeder would generally be correct, because the military services as institutions cannot attempt to convert their troops (to or from religion) or promote any one faith — or absence of faith — over another.
That said, there are an amazing amount of people who would have assumed Roeder was correct in (apparently) saying military chapel services are restricted in their content. Newman accurately explains that religious services are exactly that — religious. The government cannot interfere with the religious exercise of either a chaplain or his congregants, even if they are meeting in a military chapel.
To his credit, Newman also highlights the fact USAFA has “gotten religious liberty right” recently, citing the (correct) decision to defend USAFA football players praying in the end zone prior to games. That was one of a string of losses handed to perennial critic of religious liberty, Michael “Mikey” Weinstein, who called the USAFA decision “outrageous” and a “brutal breach” of the Constitution. On the contrary, it was a win for military religious freedom.
While military chaplains run the spectrum of beliefs (particularly when everyone who isn’t Catholic, Jewish or Muslim gets lumped into “Protestant”), troops of faith can rest assured that both they and their chaplain have the protections of law and the Constitution to exercise their religious liberty.
No doubt, there may be times that doesn’t seem true, as attacks on faith and freedom frequently occur, but the US military generally does an decent job of protecting the rights of its troops to practice their religion.