Military Religious Freedom in a new Era

With the airwaves and mainstream media clogged with politics and other drama, issues of religious freedom in the US military largely fell to the wayside these past few months. The reason is that most (not all, but certainly most) military religious freedom issues begin as attacks from outside the military. With an inattentive public, those who would attack the religious liberty of US troops for their personal benefit haven’t been able to gain public traction – or have simply chosen not to, given the low monetary return they would see for their efforts.

Thus, organizations like Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation have been either silent or largely ignored these past few months. (Mikey Weinstein’s Facebook page has been entertaining, as he’s been paying to promote otherwise ignored posts only to have the comments filled with “Who is this guy?” and “Why is this #$%$ on my feed!?!”)

With a new administration, there will certainly be changes that will be a challenge for religious liberty. For example, President Biden has promised to allow transgenders to serve in the US military, staking a government position on morality that has yet to be fully aired in either the court of public opinion or the judicial branch.

More important than any particularly policy, though, is the tone that the administration sets – and the tone that is reflected in society. President Trump actually made very few direct statements or policies on religious freedom in the military, but the tone of his administration was one that strongly supported religious liberty, a fact that merited support from many religious conservatives. That tone was subsequently reflected in the direction promulgated by senior military leaders, resulting in some significant advances in military religious freedom over the past four years.

Just as easily as it was created, however, that environment of religious liberty can be restricted. To wit, Biden has nominated Rachel Levine – a man who declares himself to be a woman – as an assistant secretary in the Department of Health and Human Services. Last year Levine accused a radio host of being “insulting” for “misgendering” him.

If those views of Biden’s nominees are representative of what his Administration will promote, how long will it be before a member of the US military is punished for “misgendering” a servicemember who “prefers” a different gender?

If US troops will be “vetted” for their political views expressed in social media, how long before they’re vetted for their religious views?

The House of Representatives has been opened with a prayer by Missouri Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a former minister, that ended with “Amen and A-woman” – an egregious “pun” that showed the “insane” lengths to which some will go to emphasize gender, even in non-gendered language. (The backlash seemed to offend Cleaver — and inspired some to start calling him “Ewomanuel.”) The Senate has seated Senator Raphael Warnock – another minister – who supported Jeremiah Wright and preached that “no one can serve God and the military.”

On a seemingly more neutral front, Speaker of the House Rep Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) named retired Chaplain (RADM) Margaret Kibben to be the House Chaplain. While by no means a policy position, it may reflect some of the “tone” of the House: Kibben declined to speak up for US Navy Chaplain Wes Modder, after he was almost run out of the Navy for doing his job as a Navy chaplain.

Given the general attitude of those who align with the current Administration, it seems statistically probable that at some point in the next four years a major religious liberty case will not only arise in the US military, but also that the case will work its way to the US Supreme Court. Judicial deference to the military’s good order and discipline will weigh even against what some call a “conservative majority” on the bench of the Nation’s highest court.

It will be an interesting time, though for now it seems likely that the news will be “normal.” For example, yet another active duty US servicemember has been charged with plotting an attack against his fellow troops and the US public. That US Army PVT Cole Bridges is only the latest to express support for Islamic extremism will not stop some critics from claiming it is Christians in the US military who are the ‘real’ national security threat.

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5 comments

  • I continue to think about Jesus saying He came to divide, not bring peace Luke 12. As a military wife and mother, I did not rest the 8 years of President Obama. It is more so today. I am just looking for Pastors to preach Gods basic truth and take away all the entertaining fluff these days. Pray continuously.

    • Yes Kay, the fire of the Holy Spirit needs to come back to our pulpits today. Be bold and strong to preach the whole counsel of God no matter if they step on toes or lose people from their church.

  • As a Christian, Patriot and USAF retiree, I’m not troubled by what I’ve seen. God is in control of everything! Encourage one another in faith and continuing to do good until our end. Amen! Be bold and courageous! I have three of five children serving in the military with their families. This is their turn to fight for our United States Constitution, their heart’s convictions and our Lord God [granted not in that order]. Righteousness will prevail!

    [NIV] Roman’s 1:18-31 … “Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”

    [NIV] Mark 13:1-36 … We must not be alarmed at what is happening. I’m not saying to ignore these situations, stand your ground in faith, pray for all appointed leaders – we will never know when or if their hearts will turn to the Truth.

    God bless this blog, thank you Christian Fighter Pilot

  • I honestly fail to see how a Trans person serving in the military has any effect on my religious freedom. I have my own personal opinions on that subject, and I’m certainly not going to change them for a trans person. However, there are lots of people who I serve with who have values and beliefs that are radically different from mine, and not one of them has in any way hindered me from worshiping God or believing what I know to be right.
    If someone wants to serve in a military that enforces religious rules on its members then they are welcome to move to a country that doesn’t practice religious tolerance like America.

    • @Al Hanks

      It’s a fair question. To the extent that US culture and the military “live and let live,” you’re right: They can choose to behave however they want, and you can choose to believe whatever you want.

      The problem is when those two things come into conflict.

      Consider, for example, Col Leland Bohannon, who was sanctioned because he had his superior sign a personal certificate rather than signing it himself. The certificate – which was a personal statement, not an official one – required that Col Bohannon affirm the sanctity of a homosexual “marriage,” an action which conflicted with his religious beliefs.

      Similarly, consider that at some point cases like those of Peter Vlaming or Dr. Nicholas Meriwether will soon appear in the military.

      If one were to claim that the religious beliefs of Col Bohannon, Mr. Vlaming, or Dr. Meriwether were invalid or inconsistent with military service, they would be “enforcing religious rules” on those troops and, in your view, welcome to leave the country.

      Unfortunately, your view isn’t likely to happen. Instead, the government will have to decide which of two conflicting worldviews it is going to “enforce”: The freedom to believe and exercise one’s faith (a human right protected by the US Constitution), or the freedom to “choose” your gender — and then require others to support that choice.

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