MAAF Preparing Response to DoD IG Conscience Protection Report

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Update 8/31: Leo Shane of the Military Times reported on how unsubstantiated Christian Victimhood distracts from real conscience protection issues.

Update 8/24: MAAF sent a direct response [MAAF Conscience 20150818] to the DoD IG commenting on findings and reiterating important issues the report should address.

The Department of Defense Inspector General has submitted a final draft report on its investigation of conscience protection issues in the US military. The report was required when, after the passage of conscience protections in the National Defense Authorization Act, evangelical advocacy groups made numerous allegations of persecution and confusion of their military chaplains. MAAF has reported, extensively, that these allegations are almost entirely unfounded and disrespectful to our military. That having been said, the study at least acknowledged the plight of Humanists, Wiccans, Sikhs, and other struggling minorities while debunking the claims of widespread command-directed persecution of evangelicals. The Inspector General calls for agencies in the Department of Defense, Army, Navy, and Air Force to review and respond with their compliance. MAAF will be preparing an official response to this interim report as well to advise the services on implementation and to close gaps we see in the report itself.

[FULL REPORT: http://www.dodig.mil/pubs/documents/DODIG-2015-148.pdf]

The most concerning portion of the report for MAAF seems to be the lack of acknowledgement of issues reported by MAAF to the investigators. Investigators contacted MAAF in September 2014, and MAAF responded immediately with specific grievances on behalf of our military constituency. This response was well over 1500 words, not counting annotations and references, and included in part our lack of a Humanist option on religious preference lists in the Navy and Air Force, lack of chaplain support, lack of alternatives to church in basic training programs, and the lack of incorporation of humanist perspectives in any military programs, in particular Spiritual Fitness. None of these issues were included in the report. The vast majority of our issues were not included in the report or recommendations.

The Military Services did not have any chaplains representing other low density groups or faiths, such as Humanists, Rastafarians, Sikhs, Pagans, or Wiccans, represented in the Military Services. (pg 35)

The investigators did make reference to the lack of humanist chaplains. Their database searches included “atheist”, “nontheist”, and “Humanist”. MAAF further applauds the recommendation of the report that Equal Opportunity surveys could be improved by, “Expanding existing questions on religious matters to more clearly include nontheistic belief systems would generate valuable, confidential information.” (pg 29) This is a common sense recommendation that will help ensure conscience protection extends to nontheists. Most importantly, the investigators did contact MAAF, which is good precedent. Acknowledging us is a great step forward, but acknowledging the issues we bring forward is a necessary step yet to be taken.

Those few items notwithstanding, there was an almost total exclusion of issues raised by humanists despite the clear guidance to include humanists and atheists by name. In lieu of having some in-group / out-group definition of “religion”, the report chooses to include everyone equally. The quote from the report excerpted ensures a Constitutional approach and sets aside entirely the red-herring question ‘what is religion’.

DoD application of “sincerely held conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs” encompasses traditional religious groups, such as Christians, Jews, and Muslims; nontraditional faith groups, such as Wiccans and Jedis; and groups with nonreligious systems of belief, such as humanists and atheists. (pg 2-3)

The greatest missed opportunity seems to be the report’s perspective on social media. Referenced in the report is the MAAF exposé of a chaplain at Ranger Training Battalion who turned a suicide prevention briefing into an evangelical sermon, both verbally and with a handout that, on both sides, had exclusive Christian symbolism, messages, and resources. Despite commenting heavily on the social media coverage and the supposed lack of internal procedures followed, the IG chose not to contact MAAF to discuss either the incident or the procedural context. Of this incident, the report had the audacity to state:

While the complaints and documentation supporting this exchange were publicly available, official complaint channels were not engaged and the incident did not appear in our data set. (pg 35)

MAAF directly and certainly made calls and sent letters to the chain of command at various levels, and advocates for the chaplain did the same. If recommendations on this report are that commanders should be so blind as to ignore a major media firestorm such as the one created at the Ranger Battalion, to consider such incidents to “not appear in the data set,” then the military will continue to be blind not just to discrimination but to other fraud, waste, and abuse that is the mission of the IG to uncover and resolve. MAAF hopes the IG will mine such unofficial reports, engage civilian advocacy and community agencies, and follow leads without bias against those sources that happen not to be part of the Department of Defense.

The report’s recommendation regarding social media, which is just one recommendation of nine, is as follows:

– develop a response kit that summarizes available resources and potential responses to the use of social media and other nonofficial reporting channels. (pg ii)

While the language is not entirely clear, this seems to imply commanders should discourage, avoid, and silence nonofficial and social media reporting. To be fair, the investigators contacted 27 civilian agencies in preparing the report and certainly acknowledged social media, so we may infer incorrectly the intentions of the report. Our hope is that the implementation of the report’s recommendation on social media results in encouragement of all agencies to take advantage of social media. A source of information may be unofficial but it may still be very legitimate and valuable. While MAAF has been critical of the Chaplain Alliance For Religious Liberty, Alliance Defending Freedom, and other advocacy groups, as some agencies have been critical of MAAF, MAAF hopes the military will recognize that service members trust these agencies more than their command, IG, EO, defense counsel, and other internal reporting channels. Whistleblower retaliation is a significant concern, easy to carry out, and almost impossible to prove. The report itself didn’t even try to find such issues with the justification, “Identifying examples of discrimination based on conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs was unrealistic.” (pg 8) The absolute best way the military can improve its internal reporting mechanisms is to take advantage of cries for help directed outside official channels. Military personnel may be enticed to go outside the chain of command by opportunistic advocacy groups, but it is far more likely personnel with problems are scared outside the chain of command by bad behavior on the part of their local leaders. One might say it is naïve and bureaucratic to think that soldiers will only and exclusively use internal channels, that these channels always function properly, and that resolution is always completed through internal channels. Hence non-official and non-military channels should be viewed as indispensable resources.

Another significant issue surrounding this report is support for gays and lesbians in the military. The repeal of DOMA and DADT that led to open service for gays and lesbians in the military led many chaplain endorsers to categorically refuse to serve many military personnel. The military, in what is hopefully a short-term solution, has capitulated and allowed anti-gay chaplains to refuse to associate with gays and lesbians in the military. The effect of this has been to shift the burden onto good chaplains willing to serve in a pluralistic community. The military must resolve this issue eventually to ensure all chaplains serve all troops equally and well. The report makes the following determination: “Services had enough diversity across doctrines of endorsing bodies to provide for the needs of same sex couples” (pg 24). This implies that allowing pro-gay chaplains to perform services in lieu of anti-gay chaplains is an acceptable fix. It does seem harsh to simply drum all anti-gay chaplains out of the service after the about-face on DADT. But the current situation of making LGB-affirming chaplains take on the workload of anti-gay chaplains while those same chaplains have the luxury of focusing even more exclusively on their own communities to the exclusion of those they disagree with is absolutely contrary to the professional military ethic, not to mention professional chaplaincy.

The report also mentioned the timely issue of Sikh accommodations. In a recent win for the Sikh community, religious accommodation for their hair, turbans, and knives was recognized and delegated to individual commands. Though this was a win, the details were problematic, in particular, that delegation to the command level meant that future commands may refuse accommodation, thus potentially forcing the Sikh service member to leave the military or violate their religious beliefs. The report provides the following recommendation: “allow waivers approved by Service Secretaries to remain in effect until revoked” (pg ii). This implies there could be permanence to seek waivers, thus adding full career stability. However, as the Sikh accommodation is delegated to the local command, it’s unclear whether the recommendation would affect Sikh accommodations. Accommodations might be given in a way that certain assignments are permanently restricted to personnel needing a certain religious accommodation, but religious accommodations given to a service member for grooming or headgear, such as in the Sikh case, should otherwise be permanent.

And returning to the primary political driver of the report, we should see what sorts of issues arose in terms of command persecution of evangelical chaplains. The answer is a resounding NO:

Within the data we examined, we identified no instance in which a commander forced or attempted to force a chaplain to perform a service contrary to his or her conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs. (pg ii)

Further, chaplains we interviewed explained that the protections offered by Section 533 reinforced existing practices. (pg 25)

 

2 Responses to MAAF Preparing Response to DoD IG Conscience Protection Report

  1. It would also be nice to know if there’s a reason why my religious preference is listed on my Officer Selection Brief. Oh wait, it’s to ensure that my secular humanist superiors know whom to persecute for their evangelicalism. I never fail to be amazed at the gigantic brass balls on display by the Religious Right; demanding the freedom to persecute while decrying nonexistent persecution. Makes me doubt that Christians were ever fed to lions: the Romans got a bad rap.

  2. Pingback: Being a Non-Theist in the Military - United Cor

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