US Military Clarifies Religious Policy, Disavows Weinstein Agenda

In another setback for Michael Weinstein’s vitriolic assaults on religious freedom in the US military, the Department of Defense issued a clarifying statement (full text below) disavowing Weinstein’s characterizations and accusations.

It did so in a unique way, however:

Service members can share their faith (evangelize), but must not force unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others of any faith or no faith to one’s beliefs (proselytization).

(The DoD statement would presumably override the one from the Air Force the day prior, saying troops couldn’t share their faith if it made others “uncomfortable.”)

It’s an awkward turn of semantics, since most dictionaries don’t define “proselytizing” as being “unwanted” or “intrusive” (its a neutral term “to convert”).  Over the past few years, the term has been so often associated with “coercion” it has come to have a negative connotation.  (Weinstein’s research assistant, Chris Rodda, actually agrees the definition doesn’t involve coercion, but she claims the change in definition was the result of a Christian conspiracy.)  Still, they’ve at least distinguished the terms, which sets the foundation from which to discuss the issue.

Some might claim the DoD statement is a victory for Weinstein, but its actually a victory for his nemesis, retired LtGen Jerry Boykin, who just the day prior called on the US military to

make a very positive statement that they will not accept coercion but they will allow evangelical Christians and Catholics to express their faith…to do what we believe is fundamental to the Christian faith, and that is sharing our faith with others.

The Department of Defense did precisely as Gen Boykin asked.

No mainstream Christian group or representative has ever advocated “intrusive” evangelism as an effective means of growing God’s kingdom. No Christian truly believes one can be saved at the point of a knife or, to use an internal military example, a threat against promotion or advancement. Harassment is unacceptable whether the message behind it is religious or sports related. In other words, as General Boykin indicated, the military’s statement is a good one.  The only caveat, as Rick Garnett highlighted at Mirror of Justice, is that the protection from abuse of a superior’s authority should not reflect on the content of the superior’s belief [emphasis original]:

Any regulations and policies designed to (quite appropriately) protect our men and women in the service from abuses of superiors’ authority…[should] not reflect a premise or presumption that the content of traditional religious teachings and practices is substantively objectionable and therefore not-to-be-discussed-or-advocated in the armed services…

Weinstein is left in a bind, and he loses ground any way he turns. He has long relied on an amorphous definition of “proselytize” to avoid any specificity to his accusations, making his vitriol amenable to a wide audience unwilling to spend the time to figure out what he was really trying to say. (Weinstein is apparently “given to outrageous overstatement and sloppy thinking,” “rhetorically adolescent…alarmist, hostile, rude beyond its most legitimate targets, hyperventilating, and self-aggrandizing.”  He also overuses adjectives.)  By his definitions, any military superior who mentioned their faith at all, it seems, was violating their oath to uphold the Constitution, was a spiritual rapist, etc, etc. In many cases, as with General Ronnie Hawkins, for example, there was clearly no “unwanted, intrusive attempt to convert,” yet Weinstein demanded heads on pikes.

More to the point, despite Weinstein’s self-declared “war” being several years old, and despite four (failed) lawsuits against the military, Weinstein has never presented a provable case that any member of the military has “proselytized” (using the “new” DoD definition). In fact, military public affairs officers were likewise unable to report a single incident. Ever.

Weinstein would be just as effective demanding that troops who sell state secrets to Brunei be court-martialed. Yes, its bad. It might have even happened once. But to claim it is anything larger than that — a conspiracy to create an American Holocaust, as he’s said before — is asinine. Weinstein’s “war” is against an apparition.

This particular Don Quixote isn’t even fighting real windmills.

Weinstein’s fight is made harder, too, because he has to contend with the US military’s decision to defend the troops’ right to “evangelize” — something he has long since lumped in with “proselytize.”

And there’s one other affirmative statement for Weinstein to overcome:

The U.S. Department of Defense has never and will never single out a particular religious group for persecution or prosecution.

Weinstein’s demands are predicated on government persecution of who he considers the “wrong kind” of Christians.  The US military just told him they will not accede to his demands to take action against any faith group.

The final statement is one that is supposed to be “obvious:”

The Pentagon, however, stressed that Weinstein is not a DOD consultant or a member of any advisory board.

It’s true that no one government official ever claimed Weinstein had been retained in any official capacity, but it still ignores a question many have hadWhy was Weinstein there in the first place?  (One critic listed a lot of reasons why he shouldn’t have been…)

Regardless, in the end it seems Weinstein may need a new mantra.

If Weinstein accedes to the DoD terminology, he will have to change his tactic and claim “evangelism” is unconstitutional. But how will a self-proclaimed “religious freedom” advocate reconcile his charity’s name with actions that restrict the benign “sharing of faith,” which the US military says is acceptable?

The self-contradiction hasn’t stopped him for the past few years, so it likely won’t now, though he may have burned bridges with “moderates” who have otherwise supported his demands.  (The Acton Institute said Weinstein is “not taken seriously by anyone outside the secular political left.”)

There is one item left open, however.  In his statement quoted above, General Boykin called on the military to rightly restrict coercion but defend evangelism.  He also called on them to publicly dump their special treatment of Michael Weinstein:

Boykin said, “We want to see the Pentagon openly distance itself from Mikey Weinstein…”

Boykin and the FRC have continued their petition drive (claiming more than 110,000 signatures in 72-hours) to call on the US military to “categorically disavow” Weinstein.

The stated military policy is an admirable statement of the value of religious liberty in the US military — and it is a somewhat rare affirmative defense for those of faith.  Still, even some within the leadership of the military have warned of threats to religious freedom, as Coast Guard Rear Adm. William D. Lee did at the National Day of Prayer observance in DC.  The next few weeks could be interesting.

The text of the complete Department of Defense release on proselytizing and evangelism follows:

The U.S. Department of Defense has never and will never single out a particular religious group for persecution or prosecution.  The Department makes reasonable accommodations for all religions and celebrates the religious diversity of our service members.

Service members can share their faith (evangelize), but must not force unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others of any faith or no faith to one’s beliefs (proselytization).

If a service member harasses another member on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, or disability, then the commander takes action based on the gravity of the occurrence.  Likewise, when religious harassment complaints are reported, commanders take action based on the gravity of the occurrence on a case by case basis.

The Department of Defense places a high value on the rights of members of the Military Services to observe the tenets of their respective religions and respects (and supports by its policy) the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs.  The Department does not endorse any one religion or religious organization, and provides free access of religion for all members of the military services.

We work to ensure that all service members are free to exercise their Constitutional right to practice their religion — in a manner that is respectful of other individuals’ rights to follow their own belief systems;
and in ways that are conducive to good order and discipline; and that do not detract from accomplishing the military mission.

Also covered at the WND, Investors.com, and even Snopes, and Fox.

9 replies to “US Military Clarifies Religious Policy, Disavows Weinstein Agenda

  1. Donald Philip Veitch

    (1) Good job, specifically, on this point.

    (2) However, there is more behind all this including conflicts with some Chaplains and DADT.

    Thanks for this report.

  2. mary

    I heard about weinstein on a radio show. It was very upsetting
    I wondered if this guy really was hired by our govt. It would be very bad if so. He is evil.

  3. Alex

    I don’t see how the DoD statement “overrides” the Air Force statement – what do you see as the distinction between evangelical overtures that are “unwanted” and those that make soldiers “uncomfortable”? The DoD statement seems entirely consistent with the Air Force statement to me.

  4. JD

    @mary
    He wasn’t “hired,” but he did receive a private meeting with senior Air Force officers, which average people probably don’t rate.

    @Alex
    Neither statement says anything about “overtures.” The DoD “outranks” the Air Force, and it very evidently felt the need to clarify or correct what the Air Force previously said.

  5. Alex

    How else do you describe an offer to share one’s faith as anything other than an “overture”? I’m not sure why you object to the term. And I still don’t see the clarification or correction. As I said, it looks to me like the DoD statement is entirely consistent with the Air Force statement. If you think that they’re saying different things, then please explain the difference.

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