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 Read more
Though it occurred somewhat under the radar these past two weeks, new US military policies clashed with religious freedom, resulting in outside groups coming to the aid of US troops and their liberties.
Late in June, the US Navy Fleet Forces Command, which administratively oversees Naval forces based within the continental United States, issued “additional Force Health Protection guidance” regarding COVID-19 mitigation procedures. In theory, Fleet Forces Command had already declared “HPCON C minus” in late March, and the late June message was a “reiteration” or reminder of that status. However, the latest release was notable (making the local news in many places) and very specifically clarified the somewhat vague HPCON C- with detailed mandatory procedures and prohibitions – including a specific statement on religious services – even those off military installations.
As printed in the Navy message (PDF):
5.A.7.B.4. (U) SERVICE MEMBERS ARE PROHIBITED FROM VISITING, PATRONIZING, OR ENGAGING IN THE FOLLOWING OFF-INSTALLATION SPECIFIC FACILITIES, SERVICES, OR ACTIVITIES…
5.A.7.B.4.F. (U) DINE-IN RESTAURANTS (TAKE-OUT AUTHORIZED), BARS, NIGHT CLUBS, CASINOS, CONFERENCES, SPORTING EVENTS, CONCERTS, PUBLIC CELEBRATIONS, PARADES, PUBLIC BEACHES, AMUSEMENT PARKS OR OTHER EVENTS DESIGNED TO PROMOTE LARGE GATHERINGS, TO INCLUDE INDOOR RELIGIOUS SERVICES.
While seemingly Read more
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 Read more
On Tuesday, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tx) sent a letter (press release, PDF) to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper highlighting the US Army’s kowtowing to Michael “Mikey” Weinstein’s demands to restrict religious liberty in the Armed Forces. Some of the language may seem very similar to what was written on this site the same day [emphasis added]:
The [MRFF] has been waging a campaign against the chaplaincy, and frankly, against religious freedom in the military generally. In response, the Army has censored chaplains’ religious speech based on the flawed and arbitrary notion that military chaplains may not carry out their official duties outside of a religious ceremony that occurs within the four walls of a chapel.
As with other members of Congress in the recent past, Cruz reminded Read more
During the unique trials of the pandemic, US military chaplains are coming under fire for trying to provide support for their troops.
A few years ago, Michael “Mikey” Weinstein regularly made a ruckus over something frequently called “Chaplain’s Corner”. The pieces were generally short articles written by military chaplains and published in a military base’s local paper. Weinstein and his research assistant, Chris Rodda, were apparently unable to prove military Christians were actually doing anything wrong, so they took to finding articles with Christians saying something they didn’t like. Just about every week, it seemed, the MRFF would hit the press with another “the world is ending” claim about a Christian chaplain trying to subvert democracy by publishing an article in a small-circulation base paper. (Notably, they ignored those by other faiths.)
There were plenty of targets, of course, because these columns existed at pretty much every military base. (Routine public productions like that are good fodder for performance reviews.) In other words, Weinstein was able to keep himself in the press just by making a new complaint about old news every week. In many, if not most, cases, military bases responded by pulling the columns to mitigate the supposed offense. With the “victories” and coverage, Weinstein had found a new cash cow.
That is, until religious liberty advocates stepped in to defend the rights of US troops against the attacks by Weinstein and Rodda.
One of the most significant Read more
A few years ago, it seemed issues of religion in the military – scandals, some might say – dominated the news cycle for weeks out of the year. Every December the “top ten” religion media stories of the year included several regarding the US military. More recently, however, such “scandals” have fallen out of the news. To be sure, issues of religion in the military still pop up every now and then, but now those stories tend to involve actual issues of religion in the military, not manufactured outrage. Media stories are now far more likely to be about the changes that allow a Sikh to wear a turban or beard than about some random member of the military saying “have a blessed day” or having a Bible on their desk.
Part of the reason for this change has been the rise of religious liberty organizations who have defended the religious rights of US troops. The Becket Fund, First Liberty Institute, the ACLJ and others like them have become prominent and public defenders of religious freedom in the US military. While they were available to troops as a resource for many years, these organizations have gradually become more proactive, to the point that recent changes in US law and military policy have been proposed – and successfully passed – because of these groups. These laws and policies have dampened some of the prior years’ flail because they unified and standardized the military’s response to faith and free exercise. Rather than a cycle of military bases having repeats of the same kerfuffle, overarching policies govern the reaction of the entire DoD. (Sometimes.)
The end result is Read more
Last July, Michael “Mikey” Weinstein’s MRFF complained to the US military that Shields of Strength was combining US military trademarks with Bible verses on novelty dog tags. SoS did have authorization to use the military trademarks, but the Army told SoS to stop to prevent the “negative press.” A few weeks ago, the Marines did the same thing. First Liberty has come to their defense.
In an op-ed published at the Military Times earlier this week, First Liberty’s Mike Berry told the story:
Kenny Vaughan started Shields of Strength (“SoS”). SoS is a small, faith-based company from Texas that produces military-themed items inscribed with encouraging Bible verses. For more than two decades, Kenny has been making these inspirational replica dog tags for service members and first responders. To date, SoS has donated hundreds of thousands of its replica dog tags to military units…
Over the years, SoS replica dog tags became so popular and so nearly ubiquitous that, according to author and historian Stephen Mansfield, “aside from the official insignias they wear, [the SoS dog tag] is the emblem most often carried by members of the military in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Berry and First Liberty sent Read more
In a recent article the Air Force indicated that despite the recent publicity of Airmen and other military members being granted waivers to grow religious beards, there hasn’t been a marked increase in the requests:
The Air Force, citing privacy concerns, declined to identify how many airmen have obtained waivers based on religious exemptions but said the publicity surrounding approvals in recent years has not caused an increase in waiver requests.
The article also revealed that despite the publicity surrounding the “heathen” beard approval for SSgt Garrett Sopchak, he was actually the second Airman to get one for “norse heathenism”, after SSgt William Bailey in March.
The policy changes that have supported Read more