The US military has just updated its regulations with the intent of improving the protection of military religious freedom.
Department of Defense Instruction (DoDI) 1300.17 was previously known as “Accommodation of Religious Practices Within the Military Services,” but is now re-titled simply “Religious Liberty in the Military Services” (PDF). The new DoDI title sets the tone for a policy that presupposes religious liberty, rather than treats it as an outlier that may sometimes be “accommodated.”
That change in tone mimics the tone change in religious liberty policies in the Air Force – which may not be a coincidence. The new DoDI was approved by Undersecretary of Defense Matthew Donovan – a former Air Force fighter pilot who has been both an Undersecretary of the Air Force and even the Acting Secretary of the Air Force in the past few years, during which the tenor (if not always the actions) of Air Force policy leaned toward religious freedom.
It seems President Trump’s selection of Undersecretary Donovan may have set the stage for improving religious liberty in the US military.
As to the DoDI itself, it notably Read more
In February, the Air Force fired Captain Zoe Kotnik, who had been hyped (some would say over-hyped) as “the first woman to lead one of the flying force’s demonstration teams.” She’d led the team for two weeks.
While no reason was ever given for the move, US Air Force Col Derek “Maestro” O’Malley, who fired her, said in part
We have thousands of Airmen across our Air Force serving our country, and not one of them is perfect. As good people, like Capt. Kotnik make mistakes, I want them to have the opportunity to learn from them without being under public scrutiny, and to continue to be a part of this great service. They’ll be better for the experience, and in turn, we’ll be better as an Air Force.
The unusually long statement, as well as the concept of recovering from a mistake (one so egregious it led to a public removal), attracted particular attention because Col O’Malley is well-known in the Air Force’s F-16 community, and beyond, as the “Gold Bond guy.”
In 2004, then-Captain O’Malley made a spoof comedy video about Gold Bond powder that was, to put it lightly, rather crude. In fact, given today’s “Me Too” mentality, O’Malley would Read more
The US Air Force Academy announced that Col Linell Letendre was the sole “finalist” to become the next Dean of Faculty at USAFA:
“This is wonderful news for our cadets, our faculty, and our Academy,” said Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria. “Linell’s leadership and commitment to world-class education and leader development will be invaluable to the USAFA team. She has a tremendous perspective that will integrate and elevate our institution and our Air Force leaders of tomorrow.”
The elevation of Col Letendre, a USAF JAG, to Permanent Professor and Department Head was highlighted here four years ago, largely because of her public record on issues of religious liberty within the Air Force. She was, for example, one of a few Air Force lawyers who advised the Air Force on Michael “Mikey” Weinstein’s complaints against ChristianFighterPilot.com. She has reportedly towed the Read more
First Liberty’s Mike Berry wrote at the Washington Examiner calling on the Pentagon to be “more vigilant in protecting the religious liberty of men and women in uniform.” It’s an appropriate admonition based on two significant recent events.
In the first, Col Leland Bohannon was fired and removed from a promotion list after a retiring homosexual subordinate complained. As Berry notes:
A formal complaint was filed and the Air Force Inspector General ruled that Bohannon had violated Air Force policy. It took none other than the secretary of the Air Force, Heather Wilson, to Read more
This year issues of military religious freedom have boiled to the surface in two primary ways: free exercise and public expression.
For example, in its “top ten” list for 2018, The Baptist Joint Committee, a left-leaning group on religious liberty issues, highlighted the Masterpiece Cakeshop at #8 and the Bladensburg Peace Cross at #7. Similarly, Howard Friedman at the Religion Clause put Masterpiece Cakeshop at #1. The resolution of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, which is arguably still ongoing, is directly related to the military: The case will ultimately Read more
Dr. Nicholas Meriwether, a philosophy professor at Shawnee State University, has filed a lawsuit against his school because it requires faculty to address students by the students’ “preferred pronoun.” As announced by the ADF, which is representing Meriwether:
In January, during a political philosophy class he was teaching, Meriwether responded to a male student’s question by saying, “Yes, sir.” Meriwether responded in this fashion because he refers to all his students as “sir” or “ma’am” or by a title (Mr. or Miss, for example) followed by their last name to foster an atmosphere of seriousness and mutual respect.
The student’s sensibilities were so offended he shouted vulgarities at the professor and threatened to get him fired.
Ultimately, the school accused him of creating a “hostile” environment and placed a warning in his file — a warning that he must call the students by their chosen pronouns.
Meriwether cannot do so, because he said that would violate his religious beliefs: Read more
US Army SSgt Kacie Griffin has reportedly lost her opportunity to go to college and become an officer due to a recent controversy over homosexuals and a Strong Bonds marriage retreat.
SSgt Griffin was the chaplain assistant to Chaplain (Maj) Scott Squires at Fort Bragg, which was planning the Strong Bonds event earlier this year. A homosexual couple apparently expressed interest in the event; Chaplain Squires was unable to lead a marriage event with homosexuals attending, so he rescheduled the retreat — so the homosexuals filed a complaint. The investigating officer recommended Chaplain Squires be reprimanded.
For her part, SSgt Griffin was handling the administrative part of the retreat:
“Griffin informed Chaplain Squires of the application and informed the applicant that Chaplain Squires would speak with her. For this purely administrative act, an Army investigator determined she ‘gave the impression she was not eligible for the event’ and should be reprimanded for failing to ‘timely answer’ her question,” First Liberty Institute attorney Michael Berry said.
Though the “investigation” was reportedly finished months ago — and despite Read more
Update: Now widely covered at various sites, though they don’t name US Army Soldier Austin Harasti.
The Army Times reports that a Soldier at the 14th Military Police Brigade at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, has been granted a religious accommodation to wear a beard — because he is a “Norse pagan.” From Col Curtis Shroeder’s memo to the 795th Military Police Battalion Soldier [emphasis added]:
“In observance of your Heathen; Norse Pagan faith, you may wear a beard, in accordance with Army uniform and grooming standards for soldiers with approved religious accommodations.”
Interestingly, there is no tenet of “Norse pagan faith” that requires a beard, as a heathen-advocacy site pointed out. As quoted in the article:
According to the Open Halls Project, an advocacy group for heathens serving in the military, the beard is a beloved tradition, but not a requirement.
“There is no religious requirement for beards in Heathenry,” according to a 2017 post about beards. “…We, as Heathens, have no such religious requirement with regards to hair.”
In essence, this is the same as a Christian seeking a waiver for a beard because Jesus had one. That said, Army policy is to, by default, grant the accommodation so long as Read more