US Military Continues to Promote Eastern Religious Practices

The US military often gets accused of promoting or endorsing religion — particularly when it has the gall to associate religion with the uniform. The vast majority of the time, such complaints are baseless, as the mere presence of religious content and the military context does not constitute anything impermissible. In fact, it is often virtually required.

One religious practice that gets a pass is yoga. A product of eastern religions — which military articles on the topic sometimes, but not always, avoid — the military proudly publishes articles on Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines endorsing the practice.

And the same people who complain about associations between Christians and the military seem to have no problem associating Buddha and the military.

A recent article documents US Air Force Master Sergeant Kathleen Myhre’s 30-day journey to India to become a certified yoga instructor. Now, MSgt Myhre occupies a space in the Airman and Family Readiness Center, where she evangelizes those who enter on the value of her ‘spiritual’ endeavors:

Myhre longed to share with others in the military the mental, physical and spiritual benefits of yoga…

Reserve Citizen Airmen from the 446th have already reaped the benefits from her holistic training…Yoga is helping Airmen stretch their muscles and calm their minds.

Myhre’s work is also endorsed by her Group Commander:

When Col. Raymundo Luevanos, 446th Mission Support Group commander, attended Myhre’s yoga class months ago, he thought it would be great physical exercise to stretch his muscles, but he discovered mental resiliency.

“Master Sgt. Myhre gave us great insight into how pushing your body is directly related to your mental concentration,” Luevanos said. “Being mindful of your thoughts and breathing during difficult poses, can carry over into making your everyday life less stressful. It provides a sense of purpose and calmness, which can be a great long-term benefit.”

The reaction to the article on MSgt Myhre’s yoga instruction has essentially been non-existent. Contrast that with the reaction that would have occurred if Col Luevanos had been extolling the virtues of prayer after participating in a class led by a Christian, as opposed to the virtues of Buddhist yoga.

In a similar story, US Army PFC Courtney Snyder at DLI was already a yoga instructor and said she actually joined the Army in order to evangelize it from within:

“I really wanted to be able to affect the military community from within the military rather than as a yoga teacher on the outside,” she said…teaching yoga was the plan for her first Army posting…

Interestingly, Snyder said she was spurred to start teaching yoga in the Army by the Army’s own materials:

[Snyder] noticed something in her Soldier’s guide. It may not have said it directly, but the book was advocating for what yoga provides.

“I was browsing the back of the blue book, and they had a lot of breathing techniques and meditation type exercises that we do in yoga,” said Snyder.

There’s nothing wrong with Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines having the freedom to engage in religious or ‘spiritual’ exercise, if they so choose. The US military is to be commended for providing those opportunities — so long as they do so equally for all opportunities, and not just the ones that are popular in society and expected to generate the least media attention. The protection of religious liberty and free exercise applies to all.

After all, the protection of religious exercise isn’t even necessary if it’s benign and everybody’s fine with it. Religious exercise that people find offensive — or socially conservative, which might be the same thing — and results in demands it be banned are the ones that actually need protection.