Update: Responses to Chaplain Hernandez and Military Religious Freedom
Chaplain Hernandez’s previously discussed column on military Christians and religious freedom continues to receive critiques — more accurately, criticism — from a wide variety of sources.
One of the more interesting responses came from Don Byrd of the Baptist Joint Committee, a left leaning advocacy group that tends to take a more atheistic view of religious liberty than most Baptists.
In a blog entitled “Air Force Chaplain is Wrong to Oppose Religious Liberty Rights for All,” Byrd began with a principled observation ignored by most [emphasis added]:
Capt. Hernandez is of course free to believe according to his conscience and faith…The controversial issue of salvation for non-Christians is a question of Christian theology, not public policy…
Personal theological beliefs do not disqualify an individual from public service.
Byrd then added a significant “however” [emphasis added]:
Hernandez’s post goes well beyond questions of theology. He encourages Christian service members to refuse support for the “rights of all Americans.”
Whether Hernandez actually “encourages” anyone to take action against others is up for debate, as even Byrd acknowledged the ambiguity of what the article actually says and “suggests”:
Though he does not explain what that refusal should look like, it suggests conduct that could impact fundamental liberties guaranteed by the Constitution.
However, Hernandez’s statement may not be much different than those of Southern Baptists just a few months ago, as they struggled with the idea of “support” for Muslims wanting to build a mosque in New Jersey. In general, they supported the idea of allowing the mosque to be built — a “passive” support, if you will — but did not support their faith leaders defending the mosque in court — a more “proactive” support for the non-Christian religion. Those Southern Baptists had no desire to deny the “fundamental liberties” of Muslims — but they were theologically opposed to (they “refused to support“) advocacy for a hell-bound religion.
In other words, it kind of depends what you mean by “support.”
A great many people have criticized Hernandez for his article’s lack of clarity, though they still took Hernandez to task for what they believe it says. The article lacks nuance, consistency, and even an agreement on the definitions of terms. In truth, it’s not always clear what it says.
Importantly, Byrd takes issue not with what Hernandez believes or says (even though Byrd disagrees), but what he believe Hernandez is doing. It is “government” action, not a government official’s beliefs, that are the source of his concern. This is a significant contrast to most of the other critiques of Hernandez’s column.
So where is the government action?
To date — even in the face of many complaints from Mikey Weinstein over things Hernandez has said — there isn’t a single public complaint about Hernandez’s actual conduct as any Airman’s chaplain. Hernandez isn’t a newly minted chaplain. If his religious beliefs truly prevented him from performing his duties or warranted him actively denying others their liberties, is it realistic it would never have manifested itself?
Perhaps the dramatic criticisms of the “outrageous” article aren’t entirely warranted.
Byrd closes by noting that
Supporting the right of all Americans to practice their faith is not inconsistent with Christianity.
Here Byrd is correct, to the extent that “supporting” means creating, even if only passively, a society in which any person is free to have and exercise the religious beliefs of their choice. The same US law that allows a Muslim to practice their faith in public — or while in government service — similarly protects the ability of a Jew, Buddhist, or Christian to do the same.
The free will to choose to follow God is “religious freedom” — a God-given human right that is protected (not granted) by the US Constitution.
Also at the Air Force Times.