A series of troubling occurrences that appear to show increasing hostility toward religious freedom in the military has prompted Christian leaders and conservative lawmakers to express their concern and pressure the Defense Department for answers.
On May 6 the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the nation's largest evangelical denomination, issued a joint statement with the SBC's North American Mission Board pointing out the handful of media stories and issues that have prompted the concern, and asking the Defense Department for a re-enforcement of its commitment to safeguard religious liberty among the troops.
“We have no interest in fomenting conspiracy theories or faux outrage,” wrote the authors of the statement, Kevin Ezell, president of the NAMB (North American Mission Board), and Russell Moore , the ERLC's new president. “We have no interest in misrepresenting our military leaders or their civilian command.... At the same time, we do not want to ignore potential threats to religious liberty.”
The Baptist leaders go on to list the most high-profile and alarming of the issues that have caught the public's attention concerning religious liberty in the military — all of them stories covered significantly by The New American:
– Training material used by the U.S. Army Reserve categorized Christians, Catholics, and Orthodox Jews as “religious extremists,” lumping them with the Ku Klux Klan, al-Qaeda, and Hamas.
– In April the U.S. Army blocked military personnel from accessing the SBC's website, citing unnamed “hostile content” on the site. Military officials later claimed the action was a mistake that occurred because of security software used by the Army.
– In early May the Defense Department released a statement confirming that military personnel could face disciplinary action — including court-martial — for sharing their faith with others. The statement occurred in conjunction with the revelation that the Defense Department was consulting with Mikey Weinstein of the atheist Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) on policy concerning religious expression in the armed forces. While the Defense Department quickly backed down on its statement, stipulating that only “proselytizing” and not “evangelizing” would be subject to discipline, conservative and Christian leaders remained duly alarmed.
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Photo of U.S. Navy chaplain in Iraq