Hagel Dodges Questions on Religious Liberty in Military

Hagel Dodges Questions on Religious Liberty in Military

President Barack Obama’s controversial new Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, dodged questions on whether or not he supports religious liberty in the United States military during a Thursday morning hearing.

Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) pressured Hagel during the Thursday hearing before the House Armed Services Committee on whether Hagel supports a specific provision protecting religious liberty that was contained in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

That special provision, Section 533, states that “the Armed Forces shall accommodate the beliefs of a member of the armed forces reflecting the conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of the member and, in so far as practicable, may not use such beliefs as the basis of any adverse personnel action, discrimination, or denial of promotion, schooling, training, or assignment.” The full provision can be read here on pages 219 and 220.

Forbes asked Hagel if he thinks Section 533 is a “necessary provision and well-advised.”

Hagel dodged the question and did not answer it directly. “Obviously we will comply with all NDAA directives,” he responded at first. “Protection of our religious rights is pretty fundamental to this country.”

Forbes asked the question again, repeating “My only question is: Do you think that is a necessary provision and well-advised?”

“Well, it’s in the NDAA,” Hagel responded.

“Well do you feel it is necessary and well-advised?” Forbes followed up.

“I haven’t seen it,” Hagel said.

The testy exchange came during a Thursday morning hearing before the House Armed Services Committee. The hearing, on the topic of the Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Budget Request from the Department of Defense, was Hagel’s first appearance before Congress after having been confirmed as Obama’s Defense Secretary.

Forbes set up his line of question citing several examples of the Obama administration’s affronts to religious liberty.

One example Forbes cited was a recent report from Fox News’ Todd Starnes that detailed how a U.S. Army training instructor labeled Evangelical Christians and Catholics as proponents of “religious extremism,” lumping them in with Hamas and Al Qaeda terrorists. The Army instructor made the connection with a PowerPoint slide used in a presentation to a Pennsylvania-based Army Reserve unit. 

Other groups the slide labeled as proponents of “religious extremism” include Al Qaeda, Hamas, the Ku Klux Klan, Sunni Muslims, and the Nation of Islam.

Starnes quotes Army spokesman George Wright as saying this was an “isolated incident not condoned by the Dept. of the Army.”

“This slide was not produced by the Army and certainly does not reflect our policy or doctrine,” Wright said. “It was produced by an individual without anyone in the chain of command’s knowledge or permission.”

Wright notes the instructor who used the slide apologized after a complaint was lodged.

Forbes also cited a 2011 report that Walter Reed hospital had banned bibles for troops and news from early 2012 that the Air Force had removed the word “God” from patches on uniforms.

In response to those examples, Hagel said he was unaware of each of them. “I don’t know about the information you presented,” Hagel said. “I will get it and I will find out why and I will get back to you.”