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
Most people know by now that the US now has a “Space Force” along with its Navy, Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force. Much ado has been made about many very serious issues in that force, like what to call the Servicemembers in that force (Space men? Space cadets?) and whether their new seal looks too much like Star Trek and not enough like Battlestar Gallactica.
Another issue in the background has been the Space Force hymn. The Force doesn’t have one yet, but officials have noted that a song is a Service tradition, much like its uniform and rank structure.
Apparently, one song has already been offered – and it immediately stirred controversy with the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
The song was written by a former Air Force officer named James Linzey, who was an Air Force and Army chaplain. (Linzey has an interesting history as well, as he was Read more
Various outlets have reported the US Navy reversed the “controversial” decision (highlighted here yesterday) to cancel contracts for civilian Catholic chaplains, which was reportedly done either as a cost-savings or because it didn’t serve the proper demographic, depending on who you asked.
The religious services will continue for at least the next year, Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar, commander Navy Region Southwest, said in a statement to Fox News on Tuesday.
“Contrary to previous discussions, this year we will continue contracted religious ministry programs and services similar to what we’ve had in place previously,” Bolivar said. “We will also continue to assess how best to meet the needs of our sailors and their families throughout the region.”
The decision to axe the civilian chaplain contracts was criticized by Sen Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Archbishop Timothy Broglio, who leads the Archdiocese that encompasses the military service.
The Navy’s actions had even caught the attention of their Commander-in-Chief, with President Trump tweeting about the reversal: Read more
Various news outlets covered the US Navy’s decision not to renew the contracts of civilian chaplains who were filling critical billets in the military chaplaincy:
The Navy has declined to renew contracts with Catholic priests in a supposed “cost-cutting” move, leaving bases without enough chaplains to keep services going…
The San Diego Tribune’s headline was somewhat misleading, as “other religious services continue” because most of the contract chaplains are Catholics, so the “other religious services” will continue to be served by active duty military chaplains.
Part of the Navy’s reasoning, according to Vice Admiral Yancey Lindsey, was that chaplain contracts were ended
at bases where those services are readily available in the surrounding community outside the base.
Such reasoning is dangerous toward 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
As the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic increasingly restricted personal interaction, US military chaplains did what many of their civilian counterparts were doing and increased their “virtual” presence through online chapel services and videos. Chaplains who could no longer interact with their troops on the PT field, in the barracks, or in the halls — like Chaplain (Maj) Brian Minietta — found other ways to do so, including using their units’ Facebook pages.
Michael “Mikey” Weinstein did not like this, claiming that the presence of chaplains’ video messages on unit Facebook pages constituted command endorsement of the message and coercion of subordinates to those beliefs. According to Weinstein acolyte Lawrence Wilkerson, whose primary claim to fame is being the former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell, these military chaplains were actually violating the US Constitution.
While laughable on its face, it would seem the US Army Chaplain Corps ultimately agreed. It provided guidance (PDF) to its chaplains on May 26th in which it instructed chaplains to keep “specific religious” messages off unit Facebook pages:
General encouragement can be placed on a unit webpage, but specific religious support content should be on a dedicated UMT, RSO, or Chapel webpage.
In fact, as the MRFF gleefully noted, the Chaplain guidance went Read more
The US Navy recently announced that its Surface Warfare Officers (SWOs) — those Sailors who operate and maintain the surface fleet of ships — will be allowed to wear a black leather jacket for “esprit de corps” and to identify with a “long lineage of professional ship drivers.”
Yet even the Navy’s official release noted the jacket’s aviator connotation: 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