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.



  • The point is well-taken, in that the government should judge not on belief but on behavior. And you’re right in pointing out that nobody has ever accused Sonny of practicing what he preaches in this article. There is hope.

    A bigger question is why a military chaplain would even consider stating publicly that chaplains who support the rights of non-Christian Service members to practice (not just profess) their own religion are serving Satan–even if he believes that. Sure, he gives a half-hearted CYA caveat to the contrary, but the undeniable thrust of his piece is that chaplains are justified in obstructing religious accommodation for anyone who holds to non-Christian views. Did he miss the religious accommodation lesson in his chaplain training? Who is he trying to convince?

    Based on his history of writing outlandish articles that persuade nobody, it’s hard to conclude anything other than that, like Mikey, Sonny is all about Sonny. Self before service rather than the other way around.

    Neither Mikey nor Sonny have the maturity or good sense to see the harm they cause to true religious freedom. They are brothers from another mother indeed.

  • Salvatore Giomanni

    And JD continues to opine without reference to any military regulations.

    The chaplaincy exists to ensure the free exercise rights of all. A chaplain is obligated to minister to all members of his or her unit, and to facilitate the free exercise rights of those of different faiths. This appears to be specifically what Hernandez is rejecting.

    Instead of making emotional defenses of him, how about have Sonny and his endorser say how his remarks are not a repudiation of the basic job description of a chaplain?

  • To me it seems to suggest a simple question:

    Would Mr Hernandez help, if he was asked, facilitate the worship or other religious requests of an airman who was a Satanist or Jew or Hindu or Quaker or Methodist.

    If he would, then he is a liar who is willing to support the constitutional rights of people he said he wouldn’t.

    If he wouldn’t then he is a liar who did not intend to do his job when he joined the military.


    this man is just like a muslim……..Christianity and Islam, the troublemakers of the planet…….self-righteousness is their forte…..