President Trump’s “Questionable” Claim on Military Religious Freedom
When President Trump signed his executive order on religious liberty at the beginning of the month, most of the criticism (as the President seems to attract much of it) was focused on the IRS and enforcement of the Johnson Amendment.
A few sites, however, took issue with his reference to religious liberty in the US military. During his Rose Garden announcement on the National Day of Prayer, President Trump said (video):
Just one example, people were forbidden from giving or receiving religious items at a military hospital where our brave service members were being treated and where they wanted those religious items.
Though he made no direct statement, that clearly seems to be a reference to the December 2011 controversy in which Walter Reed updated its visitor policy to say
f. No religious items (i.e. Bibles, reading material, and/or artifacts) are allowed to be given away or used during a visit.
However, the Washington Post said Trump “mischaracterized” the “2011 controversy at Walter Reed”:
If Trump was referring to the Walter Reed case, it is untrue that troops actually were “precluded” from receiving religious items because of the memo. The policy was never enforced and was quickly overturned in December 2011…
That’s a pretty pedantic objection. The WaPo said Trump was correct that the policy was made, but since there’s no indication someone was actually prevented from receiving religious items (because objections were raised before it could even be enforced), they’re claiming he was wrong.
Did religious freedom groups have to wait for someone to be denied a Bible before they could say the policy was wrong?
CNN went a bit further, saying the US military was “perplexed” by their Commander in Chief’s comments. However, CNN provided no reason to believe the military was “perplexed”. In fact, it seems the Pentagon knew precisely what the President was talking about:
Pentagon officials said he was likely referring to a situation in 2011 at the Army’s Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington.
“In 2011, a local patient visitation policy was issued at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center that was written to prevent unsolicited proselytizing from religious groups, including the distribution of their religious items to patients who had not asked for them,” the Pentagon said in a statement sent to CNN.
“Due to the wording of that policy, religious groups interpreted the policy to be an outright ban on visitation and distribution of religious items,” the statement continued. “The policy was subsequently re-written to eliminate ambiguity, stating that, ‘Patients determine their visitors.’ “
Does that sound like the Pentagon was “perplexed” to you?
The policy at Walter Reed was exactly as the President said it was. It’s great that it was never enforced — a result brought about by objections from religious liberty groups, not the military’s own action.
It seems some were so intent on finding something wrong with what President Trump did or said, they weren’t exactly forthright in their criticisms.
The greater point of President Trump’s message, for those who actually listened, was the error in ever having the policy to begin with. Religious liberty should be presumed and affirmed.
American citizens — and US troops — shouldn’t have to claw back their rights, especially from their own government.