New Coalition Speaks Out For Christian Privilege

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Some of the most extreme proponents of Christian privilege combined forces on July 9th to give a briefing outside the Capitol. This including Tony Perkins and Jerry Boykin of the Family Research Council, Ron Crews of the Chaplain Alliance, and Representatives Louie Gohmert, John Fleming, and Jim Bridenstine. They laid out their case, essentially, that Christianity was promoted by George Washington in the pre-1st Amendment military and so it should be promoted in the modern military. And due to this history, they seem to be advocating that their beliefs (which they present simply as “Christianity”) should enjoy unchallenged priority over all military orders and regulations.

Tom Carpenter, of the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy, has also written on the dangerous direction these organizations are taking the chaplaincy when they Cry Wolf.

This coalition seems to be committed to characterizing every real or imagined limitation on proselytism as hostility toward religion. The unfortunate outcome of their actions is to unnecessarily promote a climate of fear in the military. The chilling effect of their actions was recently reported by retired Army Major General Dennis Laich. They use Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation as a favorite Bogey Man, going so far as to target his son. In May, The Family Research Council distributed a listing of uncited non-events, and they doubled-down with a new list of offenses at this event — see listing below. At least their most recent listing has a few citations to work with.

Ron Crews of the Chaplain Alliance recounted seemingly pedestrian tale of a Christian commander processing marital benefits for same-sex couples. This example, chosen by Crews to show an infringement of the commander’s religious liberty, clearly shows that they include in their idea of religious freedom the right to discriminate simply by claiming Christian exception. OutServe-SLDN, a group that advocates on behalf of LGBT service members, has used the phrase “license to bully” to explain these recent efforts to create Christian exceptions to all government activities.

Also during the event, the Chaplain Alliance published two small “palm cards” (see Section III below) listing religious rights and avenues to escalate any perceived slight. They make no mention of responsibilities to fellow service members, professional duties, or good order within the military. They set aside military duty in favor of demanding unfettered opportunities to proselytize and to enforce their religious law on others. Several journalists asked if this permissive view of religious freedom would apply to Muslim Sharia law, denial of benefits for mixed-race couples, or humanist chaplains. Several speakers offered various responses denouncing privileges for those ideas with which they did not consider Christian. The efforts of this coalition discredit all those Christians who serve in our military, expressing their religious freedoms while also honoring their professional duties.

I spoke with Representative Fleming after the event. I specifically objected to his statements that a humanist chaplain would tell a dying soldier that the soldier had no hope. I consoled him that humanist beliefs and respect for others would prevent such a nonsensical infringement. I asked him what a Christian chaplain should say to an atheist whom the Christian believed to be doomed to eternal fire. Rep. Fleming said that the chaplain would offer salvation through the Bible. While a humanist chaplain would be respectful and supportive of a soldier in need, Rep. Fleming feels a Christian chaplain should try to convert a dying soldier. Hopefully Rep. Fleming will recant his endorsement of such exploitative proselytism and end his derogatory comments about humanists and other nontheists.

 

Below are two additional sections, one with a line-item review of offenses and a third section with review of the “palm cards” presented.

Section II: Review of  the July list of offenses presented by FRC

Again, the May FRC list of complaints had anecdotes without citations. This listing benefits from a citation for each. The headlines match the FRC report and MAAF provides commentary.

It would make sense to add a more thorough summary but it’s simply not worth the time. A few items, like the Bible on the desk or “God” on a unit logo might be worthy of discussion but the general message seems to be that FRC equates actions by Mikey Weinstein to restrictions on religious liberty.

1. Casey Weinstein, 2004: Reaching all the way back to 2004 to take a swipe at Mikey Weinstein’s son, FRC tells of how the Air Force Academy advertised the “Passion of the Christ” for all students to watch. They mention only a single instance of advertising the film. A quote from the FRC-cited article shows the massive evangelical campaign and the courage Casey Weinstein showed by standing in opposition:

Promotional flyers were placed on the breakfast plates of all the nearly 4,000 cadets one morning, followed by more flyers on each place setting at lunch and at other meals during the following days. As the cadets ate, images from the film were flashed on cafeteria screens used for official Academy messages. In addition, “Passion” posters hung from walls in offices and dormitories. And mass e-mail messages urged cadets to attend special screenings of the film.

2-7, 27, 28. FRC lists 6 events from 2005-2006 regarding Mikey Weinstein’s complaints and lawsuits. These allegations seem to focus on statements by Weinstein and not by any action of the military to restrict religious freedom, so it’s unclear how any of these are relevant.

8. Christian Embassy targeted by anti-Christian group, Dec 2006. The ‘anti-Christian group’ means FRC’s favorite Bogey Man Weinstein. The Christian Embassy was not targeted but rather one video, shot at the Pentagon, with improper authorization and uniformed senior officers promoting Christianity. The Department of Defense rightfully found this to be abuse of military resources and military authority to promote Christianity.

9-11. In these three items, FRC laments the 2009-2010 discussions between Weinstein and two senior Air Force leaders. Discussions do not constitute discrimination or even policy.

12, 13, 22. Tony Perkins, Billy Graham, and Jerry Boykin lost Academy speaking engagements because the military did not wish to associate with anti-gay or anti-Muslim statements, respectively. Since they were not military personnel and such invitations are a privilege not a right, these incidents have no relevance other than offending FRC.

14, 15, 17, 20, 23, 24, 27. These items were recycled from the May list and need not be re-addressed.

16, 34. Air Force Chief of Staff chills religious speech in service-wide memo, Sep 1, 2011. The memorandum advocated for government neutrality toward religion, not any chilling of speech. This memorandum and the later related publication Air Force Instruction 1-1 (Item 34) do provided potential for discussion. However, FRC quoted from the memorandum but made no comment to indicate any disagreements. Similarly, FRC complained of Weinstein’s influence but only objected to the idea that government should be neutral toward religion.

18. Air Force Academy apologizes for its promotion of Christmas charity, Nov 3, 2011. The Samaritan’s Purse Christian charity continued with advertising through the chaplain corps. FRC’s complaint seems to be that they don’t enjoy command promotion of Christianity.

19. Anti-Christian Group threatens suit over nativity and menorah on Travis Air Force Base, Dec 2011. In FRC’s own words, “The Air Force Base refused to remove the display, finding it did not violate the Constitution.” There’s more to this story, but it is unclear what FRC has to complain about.

21. Air Force removes “God” from unit’s logo, Feb 7, 2012. An Air Force procurement agency had a motto written in latin that translated to “Doing God’s Work with Other People’s Money”. It seemed an inappropriate use and the Air Force changed it to “Doing Miracles With Other People’s Money.” This incident refers not to private religious expression but an implication that the unit itself was religious.

25. West Point study links pro-life groups to terrorism, Nov 2012. FRC may dislike the finding, but that is what the West Point Combatting Terrorism Center found. Censorship is an uninspiring response to science. FRC shows their preference to a certain political and ideological subset of Christianity by equating negative comments about pro-life movement with an attack on religious freedom.

26. Army removes cross and steeple from chapel, Jan 2013. This is true and FRC may object to the policy, but this was no isolated incident. Long-standing Army Installation policy says that general-use chaplain facilities must be religiously neutral when not in use. The local chaplain decided he liked Christianity best and installed a permanent Christian fixture. He was reminded it wasn’t his personal property or his church and he needed to comply with regulations and respect the religious freedom of all, not just himself.

29, 31, 32. After meeting with Weinstein, Pentagon confirms policy, Apr 30, 2013. “Lt Commander Nate Christensen said, “Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense.” Of everything on the list thus far, this point bears discussion. FRC should also be honest and represent the full quote which said, “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).” Christensen and later Lt Col Laurel Tingley, have provided, so far as I am aware, the only attempted definitions of evangelization or proselytization ever recorded in any official military doctrine. Discussing, developing, and codifying such boundaries is the way to religious freedom in the military.

30. Air Force officer told to remove Bible from desk, May 2, 2013. The facts of this case are unclear, but having personal items like a Bible on a desk might be appropriate if handled with care, just as a Qur’an, a Buddha statue, or some other favorite item. Discussion can increase freedom, but one-sided demands for unchecked privileges have led in this case to extra precautions against abuse.

33. Coast Guard Rear Admiral speaks at National Day of Prayer event, May 2, 2013. Admiral Lee admits to pushing Bibles on vulnerable soldiers. He is not a chaplain or a psychiatrist, and his layman’s diagnosis and prescription of Jesus is an excellent example of the abuse of power and proselytism of vulnerable military personnel that the new coalition is attempting to whitewash as “religious freedom.”

35. A painting including a Bible verse is removed, May 31, 2013. See this painting for yourself – a Crusader and a reference to Matt 5:9 lording over all in the dining hall. The idea of a Crusader military is contrary to our secular government and damaging to our military mission. The introduction of religious imagery in such public settings promotes Christianity to the detriment of other beliefs and was appropriately removed. This was certainly not just ‘a painting reference a Bible verse’.

36. A soldier is punished for serving Chick-fil-A, Jun 5, 2013. FRC is being deliberately obtuse in this case. A soldier turned a unit promotion party into a political discussion. However, again, the facts are not clear. Catholic online reported a long list of political activities the soldier was conducting in his unit. The issue here seems more about repression of politics than religion, but it is something to keep in mind.

37, 40. Fleming Amendment is adopted, Jun 5, 2103 (and Senate). An amendment adopted in Congress that entirely supports the FRC position cannot be seen by them as a problem, so it is irrelevant for this list.

38. Air Force removes video that mentions God, Jun 7, 2013. Again, I find it frustrating to have to fact-check. FRC implies a short video ‘mentioned’ God and was removed. If this were a simple mention or a turn-of-phrase in an otherwise secular video, there may be no problem. View the video and you will see “God Created A First Sergeant” is in bold letters to start out, the verbiage starts with God creating a first sergeant, and it was written by a chaplain. The chaplain should feel free to deliver such a sermon to his flock, but it’s not properly representing the Air Force.

39. Obama “strongly objects” to Fleming Amendment, Jun 11, 2013. FRC may legitimately be concerned if President Obama opposes religious freedom. However, this discussion is that the Fleming Amendment allows too unfettered rights for the individuals with no responsibilities to respect their military duties and fellow personnel. This is better characterized as a defense against a coup to institute special privileges for religion than an attack on religious freedom.

 

Section III: CALL Palm Cards

callpalmcards

click to zoom

The “palm cards” don’t seem to be online yet, but they were presented at the July press conference. They come in two forms, one for the Service Member and one for the Chaplain. Each has two sides: Rights and Escalation. Neither card has any mention of responsibilities, courtesy to others, or military duties. The cards themselves read fine, but this lack of mention of responsibilities advances the theme of unchecked freedoms.

Service Members’ Rights:  Beginning with “Religious liberty is an unalienable right given by God and protected by U.S. law.” These rights include: right to worship, to receive chaplain support, to be free from discrimination, and to be free from “censorship based on other’s objections to your appropriately express religious or moral beliefs”, and to “freely exercise and appropriately express your faith…”. Basically these are all very reasonable. However, the real question is what is “appropriate” or what “beliefs” will be accommodated. What about humanist or Muslim beliefs?

Service Members’ Escalation: Respectfully confirm the order or instruction to ensure understanding, ask for order in writing if circumstances permit, request accommodation, contact chaplain, command, and outside agency for guidance (in order). Other resources and activities exist, but there’s nothing wrong with the list on the card.

Chaplain Card: The chaplain card is the same but also include the right to “conduct religious services, worship, teaching, fellowship, counseling, and ecclesiastical or sacramental functions in accordance with your endorsing faith group’s beliefs”. Again, the unstated question here is when and where? Does that include the right to embark on a Pentecostal sermon during a Brigade Change of Command or to offer Catholic rites during a unit Memorial service or to engage in Muslim prayers at a deployment ceremony? Whenever chaplains are outside optional sectarian services, they are on government time and should not offer faith-based services. Chaplains should have the right to offer non-political and non-subversive sermons without government interference, and hopefully there is broad leeway on what is ‘political’, ‘subversive’, or otherwise subject to oversight.

Chaplain Escalation is essentially the same with escalation through endorsers and senior chaplains. Oddly, the Chaplain escalation route entirely overlooks the chaplain’s commander. This omission shows the power of the chaplain chain as well as a certain disregard for military command.

 

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