Congress is taking action on religious liberty in the military, a story that was originally reported by Breitbart News. New legal language passed a key committee this week and next goes to the full House and then the Senate; it could become federal law later this year.
On June 5, the House Armed Services Committee adopted two amendments for the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014, which governs the Department of Defense during the next fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 2013.
The first amendment was offered by Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC). It protects the rights of chaplains to speak and pray in a manner consistent with their faith, such as ending a prayer in Jesus’ name. This amendment passed by voice vote.
A second amendment was offered to create “atheist chaplains,” as Breitbart News reported earlier this week. This mockery of the chaplaincy was proposed by Rep. Robert Andrews (D-NJ), pushed by groups often hostile to Christians and observant members of other faiths. The committee rejected this amendment by a vote of 43-18. The military already provides secular counseling to service members, while chaplains are by definition religious and spiritual counselors.
The third amendment is the most consequential. Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) offered an amendment specifying that the religious speech and actions of all service members is a protected right, and that the Department of Defense will enact regulations to allow and accommodate those beliefs in both word and deed.
Fleming acknowledged in an interview with Breitbart News that our reporting on this issue over the past month brought the magnitude and urgency of this situation to his attention, leading him to the conclusion that immediate action was needed to get new language into federal law to protect these service members.
Regarding the amendment, Fleming said in a press release:
The conscience rights of our men and women in uniform and their chaplains must be protected. While existing protections have focused on their beliefs, my amendment will extend that protection to the liberty granted by the U.S. Constitution, namely the freedom to exercise those beliefs in speech and actions. This amendment is aimed at stopping the unjust threats and reprimands against service members who have been speaking or acting in accord with their deeply held beliefs, while ensuring that military necessity and readiness are not compromised.
During his interview with Breitbart News, Fleming added that this amendment is necessary to help address a larger problem with the Obama administration:
What we’ve seen fits the pattern of Congress abdicating its power to regulators in the Executive Branch [i.e., bureaucrats and appointees in the Obama administration]. Too often we have seen laws that have been written with specific intent taken by extremist liberal ideologues who then carry out the policies. That’s Washington’s dirty little secret. It’s part of a major trend here that, in order to enshrine a liberal, big-government, centralized planning and power approach with wealth distribution, the left wants laws that allow the permanent bureaucracy in Washington to carry them out, ad infinitum.
Fleming also spoke to Breitbart News specifically about the Obama-Hagel Pentagon’s collaboration with anti-Christian extremist Mikey Weinstein. He referenced Breitbart News’ recent story about Weinstein boasting that he called the Pentagon last week to complain about a Christian reference in a patriot painting at an Idaho Air Force base, and how the artwork was subsequently removed in less than one hour after his phone call.
Fleming commented, “This guy seems to have a hotline to the Pentagon and just has to pick up the phone and give orders and they’re carried out. That is extremely dangerous.”
Speaking on his proposed amendment, Fleming added, “If the law as spelled out in the amendment was enforced, then the free exercise portion of our religious freedom–speech and actions–would prevent such an action by Mikey Weinstein.”
In terms of its real-word impact, Fleming explained, “Under this amendment, if, in my office, I have a Bible or a crucifix on my desk, and someone calls to complain, it would be a violation of if I was forced to remove it.”
This language will be voted on by the full House of Representatives next month.
Breitbart News legal columnist Ken Klukowski is senior fellow for religious liberty at the Family Research Council.