The are new developments in Breitbart News’ story on religious liberty being suppressed in the military and the Obama-Hagel Pentagon’s working with anti-Christian activists. Obama administration officials have now responded to Congressional letters, and a new coalition was announced to protect the troops’ right to practice their personal faith.
Breitbart News broke a series of stories on Pentagon officials meeting over a four-year period with anti-Christian activist Mikey Weinstein, who said it was an act of treason for Christians in uniform to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with anyone else in the military, calling it “spiritual rape.” He called for court-martial prosecutions of troops sharing their faith and praised a rogue Army officer–Lt Col. Jack Rich–who said soldiers with biblical views on political and social issues should be barred from military service. Rich listed devout Evangelicals and Catholics on a list of terrorist organizations.
In response, almost 100 Members of Congress sent two letters to the Pentagon. One asked why Pentagon officials would meet with someone known for deeply disturbing public remarks about observant Christians and extreme hostility against Americans of faith. The other asked how the Department of Defense (DOD) could reconcile their stated policies forbidding proselytizing (the formal word for evangelizing–or sharing the Christian gospel) with current religious-liberty protections in federal law.
Lawmakers have received three letters in response. All three are from civilians appointed by President Obama.
One is from Acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning. Despite the fact that Weinstein brags about having a “bat-signal” to directly contact a senior Air Force general to respond to his wishes, and that when he recently complained about a painting with a cross in it at an Air Force Base, the painting was removed within one hour–the letter claims that Weinstein is not a consultant to the Air Force. It suggests they have no working relationship, and assures lawmakers that there is nothing to be concerned about regarding religious liberty in the Air Force.
A second letter is from Army Secretary John McHugh. This one admits that Rich labeled Evangelicals and Catholics as examples of “religious extremism.” (This is the presentation Weinstein applauds.) The letter says the presentation was “not adequately vetted,” and acknowledges the seriousness of such a characterization, saying the presentation “is neither condoned nor reflective of our military.”
The third letter is from Acting Under Secretary of Defense Jessica Wright, responding to Congress’ demands for answers regarding what DOD is doing to implement current federal law protecting religious liberty in the military. The letter assures Congress that the Obama-Hagel Pentagon places a “high value” on religious liberty, and says the administration recognizes “that the free exercise of religion is an important element of the operational readiness and well-being of our force.”
This last letter does not mention the Pentagon’s meeting with anti-Christian zealots, or acknowledge any of the incidents mentioned in Congressional letters and referenced in the other two letters.
As Breitbart News has reported, legislation to protect religious liberty passed the House in next year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), one amendment providing special protections for military chaplains and another protecting the religious speech of all military service members. It will require the Pentagon to implement these protections through new regulations within 120 days of the bill becoming law. Obama threatens to veto it.
In light of this reality, a new coalition–Restore Military Religious Freedom (RMRF)–was announced to secure passage of this new religious-freedom legislation and establish a long-term agenda to protect the First Amendment for those in uniform. The RMRF coalition was launched on Capitol Hill in a press event with Members of Congress and conservative religious-liberty leaders.
The Family Research Council (FRC) distributed a report at the press conference entitled, “A Clear and Present Danger: The Threat to Religious Liberty in the Military.” It catalogs dozens of incidents of hostility to religious expression in the military, highlighting the unprecedented nature of this hostility under Obama and his defense secretaries.
Speakers at the event included U.S. Rep. John Fleming (R-LA)–the author of one of the religious-freedom amendments in the pending legislation–as well as other Members of Congress, FRC’s Tony Perkins (a former Marine) and Jerry Boykin (a retired three-star Army general), retired Army Col. Ron Crews of the Chaplains Alliance, and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Ken Blackwell.
RMRF pledged to organize national support to work with Congress to see these new protections put into law. Military service members put their lives on the line to protect against threats to the freedoms of all Americans, and now lawmakers and policy leaders are returning the favor.
Breitbart News legal columnist Ken Klukowski is senior fellow for religious liberty at the Family Research Council and is supporting the work of the Restore Military Religious Freedom coalition.