Chris Rodda: US Troops Can Proselytize with this One Neat Trick

Chris Rodda has long been a “creative” writer, despite her sometimes claim to be an apparent amateur historian. While she has been quick to call out the errors of others with whom she disagrees, she ignores the errors of those who are on her side. She has also published a bevy of, to put it nicely, misleading writings. For someone so quick to call others “liars,” she has a very unique view of the truth.

With that in mind, Rodda published a blog yesterday with an attention-grabbing title:

National Defense Authorization Act to Include Military Training on How to Force Religion on Others.

Like much of what she writes, though, her title wasn’t true. (Most obviously, the NDAA hasn’t left either side of Congress yet, much less gone through conference committee or to the President. In other words, the NDAA doesn’t “include” anything yet.)

The short version of a long, meandering blog (Rodda has never been one for being succinct), is that Rodda is upset about Senate bill 4049, which was introduced in the Senate only a couple of weeks ago. Within it, the Senate requires the US military to conduct training on “Religious Accommodation” that must include:

  • Federal statutes, DoD Instructions, Service regulations regarding religious liberty and accommodation for members of the Armed Forces
  • The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993
  • Section 533 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013
  • Section 528 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016

Of that content, Rodda takes issue only with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The RFRA is fairly short, and it says the government cannot “substantially burden” exercise of religion, with some significant exceptions.

Rodda – who supposedly represents a foundation that defends religious freedom in the US military – was sent into a tizzy over the fact the Senate wants to the military to know the legal requirements to defend religious freedom in the US military.

Sound strange to you?

Rodda’s lamentation, verse 1 [emphasis added]:

To fundamentalist Christians like the First Liberty Institute and the Congress members who wrote to Secretary Esper, any limit whatsoever on a chaplain’s or service member’s ability to shove their religion down the throats of others is a “substantial burden” on their free exercise of religion…

If Section 541 of Senate’s National Defense Authorization Act is passed, every commander and chaplain bent on foisting their religion on everybody in any way at any time will be trained to cry “substantial burden” if anyone complains about it.

Think about this carefully. The Senate’s language requires the military to train commanders, chaplains, and JAGs on what the law already says. Chris Rodda is afraid that if commanders, chaplains, and JAGs are trained on what the law already says, they’ll suddenly cry “substantial burden”? What meaningless tripe is that?

If someone wanted to claim “substantial burden”, why wouldn’t they do so tomorrow? Why wait for Congress to require the military to train commanders?

Then, however, Rodda went into a diatribe that revealed her ignorance and, quite frankly, idiocy.

Applying the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to the military flies in the face of the 1974 Supreme Court decision in Parker v. Levy… [which] made it clear… that because of “compelling governmental interests,” the free speech of military members is NOT constitutionally protected as it is for civilians.

Let’s discuss this one in reverse.

First, it is true that certain liberties may not be strictly constitutionally-protected within the US military as they would be for civilians. The Supreme Court ruled similarly in Goldman v. Weinberger, when it said the Constitution did not require the US Air Force to allow a Jewish Airman to wear a yarmulke. However, in response to that ruling, Congress wrote a law requiring the US military to allow Jewish Airmen to wear yarmulkes. So, what the Supreme Court has to say about lack of constitutional protection is irrelevant. Congress can write a law enhancing protections within the military of any rights it wants, as recent history has shown.

Second, it is true that Parker v Levy said compelling government interests could overrule otherwise protected rights. But the RFRA has the “compelling government interest” exception already written into it. How can the RFRA “fly in the face” of Parker v Levy when it says the same thing?

Finally, Rodda’s initial “applying the RFRA to the military flies in the face…” makes it sound as though the Senate is trying to apply RFRA to the military. First, the language only requires members of the military to be trained on it. It says nothing about legal application.

Second, the RFRA has already been applied to the military. It was cited in incidents after the repeal of DADT and DOMA. In the Monifa Sterling case, the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces — one step below the US Supreme Court in the military justice system — specifically declaredRFRA applies to the military.” It has been a driving force behind Sikhs being allowed to serve in the US military with their turbans and beards.

Atheists even cited RFRA in their effort to force the military to accept them as chaplains.

More importantly, the US military has already applied RFRA to itself.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is also known as Section 2000bb-1 of Title 42, US Code. From DoDI 1300.17, February 10, 2009 – which was just re-verified last month [emphasis added]:

e. Requests for religious accommodation will be resolved in a timely manner and will be approved when accommodation would not adversely affect mission accomplishment…For requests for religious accommodation when accommodation would adversely affect mission accomplishment:

(1) In accordance with section 2000bb-1 of Title 42, United States Code (Reference (e)), requests for religious accommodation from a military policy, practice, or duty that substantially burdens a Service member’s exercise of religion may be denied only when the military policy, practice, or duty:

(a) Furthers a compelling governmental interest.
(b) Is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest

According to its own regulations, the US military is required to approve religious accommodation requests from duties that “substantially burden” religious exercise – even those that adversely affect the mission – unless there’s a compelling government interest and there’s no better way to handle it.

In other words, with a few tweaks, the US military incorporated RFRA into its own regulations, and its been that way for years. The only thing new here is the Senate requiring the military to specifically train people in certain positions on what those laws and regulations have said for years.

So, if this horrifying event of RFRA being applied to the military has already happened, where are Chris Rodda’s waves of US troops “foisting” and forcing their religion on the rest of their fellow servicemembers simply by crying “substantial burden!, substantial burden!”? Where, at all, is the “Military Training on How to Force Religion on Others”?

You mean Chris Rodda just wrote a blistering blog as if the world is going to end – on a topic that’s years old? Her predictions are actually in the past, and they haven’t come true?

Congress is justifiably upset that it has passed legislation that it feels the US military has either ignored, misinterpreted, or misapplied. Repeated cases of US troops being punished for religious exercise – with reversals, if they occur, requiring senior leader intervention – have demonstrated that commanders, chaplains, and JAGs (the people making these decisions and advising on them) don’t know the law or regulations.

This proposed language does nothing more than require the US military to read the law and its own regulations and be aware of them. The goal, presumably, is to prevent ignorant commanders from being advised improperly by ignorant JAGs and chaplains – who are supposed to know these things – to bend the knee to Michael “Mikey” Weinstein and restrict the religious liberties of their troops.

In truth, it’s hard to say that the language will even survive the Conference Committee with the bill from the Democrat-led House, which likely won’t have that language in it — a nuance Rodda coyly avoided in her Chicken Little-themed blog about forcing religion on US troops.

There was a time that Chris Rodda fancied herself an up-and-coming paragon of historical fact and virtue, albeit “fact and virtue” as defined by her. It seems her work is now valued more for its click-through rate than its attempt — however unsuccessful — to convey truth.

Rodda’s click-bait title likely stirred the souls of the MRFF acolytes who see religious oppression in the shape of every passing cloud – and demand religious liberty be restricted as a result. Perhaps it loosened their purse strings a bit, which was the likely goal. But it does not change the truth.

Rodda’s characterization is a farce.

Worse, she knows it.

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2 comments

  • William Robinson

    In nearly every case chaplains aren’t the ignorant ones; commanders are, often ineptly advised by risk-averse JAG officers whose knee-jerk reaction is almost always “no.” In their defense, most JAGs (often brand new at the job of advising commanders on anything other than prosecuting and disciplining soldiers/sailors/airmen/Marines) are doing what they think is most likely to keep their commander out of trouble. But their site picture is usually far too short to have the best interests of warfighters—and, thus, commanders—in mind.

    JAGs generally lean toward the Non-Establishment Clause (undoubtedly a function of law school curriculum these days), while chaplains (who usually are properly trained) lean toward Free Exercise. In most cases, chaplains are aided by Public Affairs officers, who tend to favor Free Speech (to include religious speech).

    At its core, this problem is a function of timid commanders who want to complete their two years in command without getting fired or harassed by obnoxious naysayers leading “non-profits” targeting religious freedom. Sadly, commanders sometimes take what they see as the path of least resistance by doing whatever makes the problem go away the quickest. Which, as history shows, normally results in a lingering problem once freedom-loving Members of Congress get involved.

    Which is why this particular element of the proposed NDAA has returned (this is not the first time this type of training has been required by Congress). I’m unsure of the timing, but it makes me wonder if this recent addition has anything to do with the Army Chief of Chaplains Office so badly bungling the issue of chaplain presence on unit web pages. If so, I would not be surprised.

    Regardless, the training is repeatedly necessary because of the rapid and regular turnover of commanders, JAGs, and chaplains in leadership positions at every level.

    Here we go again. Just in the nick of time.

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