Back to the Basics of Religious Liberty
Military officials appear to be in sandbag mode telling the media that the recent revelations about policies that would lead to the prosecution of military members for sharing their faith was all taken out of context. But the evidence would suggest otherwise, which is why in the last seven days over 140,000 people have signed FRC's petition to Secretary Hagel asking him to protect the religious freedom of our troops.
Here is a summary of events thus far: On April 26th news broke that anti-Christian activist Mikey Weinstein met with senior Air Force officials to discuss "religious issues" in the military. The Washington Post article led others in the media to ask for an explanation of what assurances, if any, were offered in the meeting. The Pentagon responded with several confusing statements over the course of last week. The first statement said, "Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense." A Pentagon spokesman was asked, "if any chaplains or service members had been prosecuted for such an offense." He responded that "court martials and non-judicial punishments are decided on a case-by-case basis and it would be inappropriate to speculate on the outcome in specific cases." But these statements only raised more questions about what was included in this ban on "proselytization." The Air Force then issued a statement saying, "Air Force members are free to express their personal religious beliefs as long as it does not make others uncomfortable." The Pentagon then issued another statement saying that Mr. Weinstein was "granted" a meeting to "express his concerns of religious issues in the military." The next day, the Pentagon released a third statement, saying, "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 Pentagon meeting and the series of statements has widened the ongoing conversation among service members, the media and Christians across the country about the extent and source of religious hostility in the military. In recent years, a distressing pattern of religious hostility has emerged across the uniformed services but most especially in the Air Force, which has largely been the focus of Mikey Weinstein's secularization efforts over the last nine years.
The evidence shows that over the years Mikey Weinstein has become some type of advisor to the military on religious issues. In November 2011, Mr. Weinstein filed a complaint against the Air Force Academy because it sent an email from cadets to cadets asking for support for Samaritan's Purse's Operation Christmas Child. Playing the role of the Grinch, Weinstein complained and 24 hours letter the Academy sent out an apology. Also in 2011, Mikey Weinstein proclaimed a "monumental victory" after Air Force Chief of Staff General Schwartz issued a memorandum in which he told his commanders not to "promote their religious beliefs to their subordinates." The chilling effect of the memorandum has been felt across the Air Force and created an environment of religious hostility. Examples of this hostility are numerous. A few instances include an Air Force officer being ordered to remove a Bible from his desk, the Air Force suspending a 20-year-old class on 'Just War Theory' because it included scriptural references, stripping 'God' from the Rapid Capabilities motto and the purging of Bibles from Air Force Inn checklists. The 2011 Operation Christmas Child story noted above is another example. Leaders even removed an article from a Squadron Office School curriculum for referencing chapel. The religious liberty violations go on and on and the fingerprints of Mr. Weinstein are on many of them. This pattern of intolerance is why the Washington Post's account of Mikey Weinstein's Pentagon meeting was so disturbing--especially the report that an "instruction booklet" would be released in a few weeks as a "panacea to all religious issues." The Air Force Times reports that the booklet will "restate" General Schwartz's memorandum banning the promotion of religion to subordinates. We have not seen this booklet but if the Air Force Times is describing the contents accurately, then the Air Force's instruction booklet will continue to advance this environment of hostility toward religious expression.
An environment of religious hostility also has been created in the other uniformed services. On Thursday, Coast Guard Rear Admiral William Lee addressed the National Day of Prayer service on Capitol Hill. He told the story of so many servicemen searching for reasons to live, and talked about one 24-year-old who had tried to commit suicide and failed. Despite the protocol, Lee said he felt strongly that he should give the service member a Bible. "The lawyers tell me that if I do that, I'm crossing the line," he told the crowd. "I'm so glad I've crossed that line so many times." To a standing ovation, Admiral Lee promised not to back down from "my right under the Constitution to tell a young man that there is hope."
What should happen next? First, the Pentagon should explain what assurances, if any, were made to Mikey Weinstein in the meeting. If there were no assurances, then the Pentagon should explain that Mikey Weinstein has misrepresented his relationship with the Air Force. Secondly, the Department of Defense should adopt a DoD wide policy that fully protects religious expression and puts an end to an environment that is increasingly hostile toward those who live out their Christian faith. On Friday, Lt. General Jerry Boykin, FRC's Executive Vice President, sent a letter to Secretary Hagel requesting a meeting. We hope this meeting will pave the way for the military to fully embrace the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion without fear of retaliation. Your petitions have already made a huge difference but we hope to present many more to Secretary Hagel. Please take this a step further, and share the petition with your friends and family.
Stand with Scouts Sunday
Last night, FRC hosted a nationwide simulcast on the effort by liberal activists to impose "open and avowed" homosexuality in the Boy Scouts of America. We heard from Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas), U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.), Pastor Robert Hall of Calvary Chapel Rio Rancho, John Stemberger of OnMyHonor.Net, Scout parents and Eagle Scouts who are concerned about the effects of allowing homosexuals to participate in Scouting. You can watch on-demand at www.standwithscoutssunday.org.
Boy Scouts themselves made some of the most moving comments. Eagle Scout Ted Anderson noted that young boys are particularly vulnerable to predation. Eagle Xavier Daniels said that as a boy being raised in a single-parent family, the strong, faithful male role models he found in his BSA troop changed his life.
Brian Rushfeldt, president of Canada Family Action, described how the introduction of homosexuality into his country's Scouting program has devastated it. Gov. Perry, himself an Eagle Scout, described how the Scouts have been "foundational" to him and to his son, Griffin, also an Eagle. The Governor spoke of how Scouting builds character, and has been "the bedrock of values ... and developer of men" in our country for more than 100 years.
"Open and avowed" homosexuals in Scouting would mean danger for young boys and moral confusion for all the boys and young men participating in the BSA. It would also mean that hundreds of thousands of families would "vote with their feet" and leave an organization that no longer reflects their deeply-held convictions.
What can you do? Go to www.OnMyHonor.Net to learn the action steps you can take to urge the BSA's leadership to keep their longtime commitment to Judeo-Christian values within Scouting--and pray for the national BSA meeting taking place May 22-24, that the delegates will vote to stand with some of America's finest, our Scouts.
Also over the weekend, our friends at Truth in Action Ministries aired a wonderful piece on the importance of protecting the Scouts. You can watch here.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.