Members of U.S. military deserve the religious liberty for which they fight

The following is a guest editorial from Congressman Doug Collins (GA-9), who also servers as a Chaplain in the Air Force Reserve.

 

Our men and women in uniform are under attack. The very freedoms they fight to preserve in America are in jeopardy among their own ranks. The foe they face is no foreign entity, but anti-religious zealots within military leadership.

Several weeks ago, an Army official labeled evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics “religious extremists.” Later, the military blocked access to the website of our nation’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. While official apologies followed each of these incidents, a recent announcement highlights the Pentagon’s shockingly hostile attitude toward Armed Forces members who are people of faith.

The Pentagon recently stated that soldiers could be prosecuted for sharing their faith. “Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense,” the statement reads. “Court martials and non-judicial punishments are decided on a case-by-case basis and it would be inappropriate to speculate on the outcome in specific cases.”

As a U.S. Air Force Reserve chaplain, I cannot express how deeply this announcement troubles me.

I had the privilege of serving the men and women of Balad Air Base, Iraq in 2008. As chaplain, my job was to protect the religious freedoms of all service members, whether they had a certain religious preference or not. I took that job very seriously, but it didn’t require me to hide my Christianity.

These changes are not simply a gag order for chaplains. If these plans are implemented, soldiers could face imprisonment or a dishonorable discharge from the military if they share their faith.

With respect to the civilian appointees who set policy for our Armed Forces, many of them can’t understand what is going through soldiers’ minds when they’re sitting at a desk thousands of miles away from the combat zone. When matters of life and death are close at hand, conversations among our men and women in uniform often turn to the eternal. Faith is discussed for mutual encouragement, support, and hope. Depriving our service members of this First Amendment freedom – one of the liberties for which they sacrifice so much – would be wrong.

Despite these disturbing developments, both my military and legal backgrounds give me reason for hope. The anti-religious culture at the current Pentagon flies in the face of more than 200 years of rich military history. Chaplains have been part of our Armed Forces since the Revolutionary War. In addition, First Amendment case law clearly protects the sharing of one’s faith.

I pray that members of our military will always be free to “give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have… with gentleness and respect” (I Peter 3:15). I’ll be working with likeminded congressional colleagues to protect religious freedom in our military. After all, both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have opened each session with prayer since each chamber first convened. Shouldn’t our service members enjoy religious liberty too?

 

45 comments

  1. George Chidi says:

    Horses–t.

    Listening to this guy’s argument is like shoving your hands down your pants to adjust your crotch after a vigorous lap dance and then smelling your fingers. You know nothing good is going to come of it, but you kind of need to know how bad it might be.

    Senior-ranking officers and NCOs have been punishing lower-ranking service members for failing to participate in religious activities. It’s been particularly egregious at the service academies, where cadets and midshipmen are instructed, in essence, that if they’re not good Christians, they’re bad officers. But there are consistent reports coming in from the field of similar behavior as well.

    Congressman Collins, as a former soldier, let me tell you that I know of more than one person who has been driven away from the use of military support services simply because they are so consistently wrapped in an evangelical, partisan message … not unlike the one you’re promulgating with this noise.

    This isn’t a restriction against “sharing the faith.” It’s a restriction against officers demanding religious obedience from their subordinates. And, damn it I sure as hell demand to see courts-martial of some leaders who decide promotions, combat assignments and station postings on the basis of religious belief, as though rank is a license to punish religious apostasy.

    I respect the role of a chaplain, and I understand what it is. Do you, you miserable theocratic excuse of a politician? The role exists to provide for the religious care and feeding of the faithful in the field. It’s there so that no soldier might be denied their First Amendment right to practice their religion. And, yes, that means your religion, too. I recognize the positive evangelical Christian command to proselytize. But you’re also wearing a uniform at the same time, and that means you’re working for the government when you’re serving. And a government official has no business whatsoever preaching the joys of any religion — or the absence of religion — to an unwilling and captive audience. When you do that, you dishonor the uniform.

    Make a choice. Live within the Constitution, or resign your commission.

    • sarachaya says:

      Force feeding religious doctrine of any kind under military orders is the same thing as establishment of a state church and forbidden by our Constitution. Freedom of Religion is part of our understanding of how our government works. Those who wish to force their beliefs on others should not have positions of command.

  2. James says:

    “Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense,” . . . As a U.S. Air Force Reserve chaplain, I cannot express how deeply this announcement troubles me.

    You, sir, are a moron.

  3. Noway says:

    “Several weeks ago, an Army official labeled evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics “religious extremists.” Later, the military blocked access to the website of our nation’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention.”

    As an aside, I do love that censorship!

    Sorry to confuse yall’s anti-Chrisitian ranting with facts, but these things did happen. It’s a fact. Deal with it.

    It’s just part of an Anti-Christian agenda the left has been engaged in for the last 50 years.

    Nice name calling, George. I’m sure the congressman is quaking in his boots at your salvo. It’s par for your course whenever you don’t agree with someone. You insult and bully with your own version of “Horses**t.”

    Oh, and is it possible, just possible, that “more than one” of the service members who’ve been “driven” out of the service had issues involving competence that might have been the reason they left and not just a Holy-rolling Colonel? Say it ain’t so, George.

    And living within the Constitution also allows freedom of speech as well as freedom of religion. Says nowhere in the 1st Amendment about freedom from religion.

    Where is that tolerance you libs are always screeching about? Hmmm…? Pathetic!

    • James says:

      “It’s just part of an Anti-Christian agenda that the left has been engaged in for the last 50 years.”

      Noway, there’s no Anti-Christian agenda. More and more people are just realizing that they don’t need to live their lives according to a magical myth-book. And they don’t like it when said magical myth-book is pushed in their faces.

      • Rick Day says:

        but of COURSE there is a vast conspiracy to …to…um… make things more equal for all?

        Stop with the privilege card. Jesus would frown.

    • George Chidi says:

      A lie, presented as truth, receives the response it deserves from me.

      I don’t argue the fact that the DoD blocked and then unblocked access to a Christian website, or that some official described some Christians as extremists. The first is a mistake that’s easily corrected. The second is an uncomfortable truth, which sadly is also easily corrected.

      “These things did happen. It’s a fact. Deal with it.” OK. Let’s take a look at what else has happened, for a little context.

      –$30 million a year spent on the Army’s Strong Bonds program. Strong Bonds is supposed to be non-religious, but has been hijacked by chaplains who have turned the program’s pre- and post-deployment getaways for soldiers and their spouses into evangelical fundamentalist Christian retreats held at Christian camps and resorts.

      –Over $12 million in Department of Defense contracts have gone to Military Community Youth Ministries since 2000. The organization is known to stalk “unchurched” military children, using such tactics as following their school buses.

      –$678,000 in Department of Defense contracts to hire evangelical Christian rock bands for a Commanding General’s Spiritual Fitness Concert Series at Fort Eustis and Fort Lee in Virginia. Soldiers who opted-out of attending one of these concerts last year were punished.

      Some evangelical Christians in uniform are extremists. That’s only controversial because Christians don’t like being described as extremist, regardless of their actual religious views. Given the fact that the military doesn’t exactly screen out extremist Christians, it’s a statistical certainty that some serving members of the military hold Christian extremist views. Saying this out loud shouldn’t be shocking at this point.

      The problem, Noway, is that while the affronts to Christian soldiers raise an immediate outcry and are more-or-less immediately corrected, the offenses by these fundamentalist evangelical and, yes, extremist soldiers go unpunished.

      We have soldiers describing the war on al-Qaeda as a Christian religious crusade. More than one general officer has specifically and publicly denigrated the Muslim religious faith for the purposes of describing the differences between the U.S. military and our enemies.

      The 1st Amendment very clearly protects all religious views and the view that religion is unnecessary or harmful is included. To argue otherwise is either ignorant or disingenuous, but I would expect little else from someone who uses the word “libs” as an epithet.

      • joe says:

        “Some evangelical Christians in uniform are extremists. ” I spent 20+ years in the Army, and never met one. But there must be some, because I read it on the internet.

        • Dave Bearse says:

          I’ll much more respect the integrity of your statement if you deny you’re a Christian.

      • Dave Bearse says:

        Of course an admitted mistake resulting in inconvenience, and promptly repudiated disparaging comments by one official are evidence of the “Pentagon’s shockingly hostile attitude toward Armed Forces members who are people of faith”. Where’s your sense of “fair and balanced” in not equating a few days inconvenience and momentary indignity to the denial of toleration of the coercion, discrimination and punishment imposed on thousands of people over a period decades?

  4. saltycracker says:

    George

    There has to be a more intelligent way to disagree with someone than to be outrageously vile. I can’t believe PP would tolerate your post even if they support your position.

    • Dave Bearse says:

      A few sentences were not in good taste, but it wasn’t outside the boundaries as a comment on one topic.

  5. Noway says:

    George,

    Couple of things. You cite stats of 20% with no religious affiliation on their dog tags, right? Well, does that mean that 80% DO cite a religious preference of some kind? Hmmmm. And I’m willing to bet that of that outstanding 80%, about 80% of THOSE cite some denomination of Christianity. Wow! And that matches almost to a tee the percentage of the general American population who say the same thing. Check the latest census as well as the CIA Factbook on the breakdown of religious faiths in the USA. CIA stats show about 77% Christian. As Frank Perdue of chicken fame used to say, “Parts is Parts” and my version of that is “Facts is Facts!” Deal with it.

    Say it ain’t so!!!!

    Also, Georgie, I’m willing to bet the only real extremists around are those that protect your poor, poor radicalizedl Muslims at all cost for some unknown reason. And before you begin a screed of your own and call me a bigot, notice I said radicalized.

    Why else would the Army and this administration “protect” a radical piece of trash like Major Hassan, who was screaming “Allah hu Akbar” while murdering 13 of his innocent fellow soldiers?
    “Work place violence?” Are you kidding me? You guys can’t even call a terrorist a terrorist. Thank you Political Correctness!

    I wonder how many officers and enlisted have not re-upped or have resigned their commissions after THAT incident? That’s the real story here.

    Please, please explain that to me! In a paragraph, please, and not your typical long-winded drivel.

    As far as my using the horrid epithet, “libs”, sorry to have offended you. You can dish it out, my friend, but you sure as hell can’t take it. What a wuss. And…it’s better that the epithets you hurled at the Congressman earlier in your posting yesterday and wisely deleted later.

    And I agree somewhat with what Salty wrote, but I’m glad Charlie and Erick have you here. You show your disdain and lack of respect for spirited disagreement more with each passing day.

    • Rick Day says:

      And I’m willing to bet that of that outstanding 80%, about 80% of THOSE cite some denomination of Christianity. You chide George for making stuff up then you pull this non sequitur out of your butt? Even in the military MINORITY DOES NOT RULE. Constitution applies to military. Now, of that 78% of ‘merkins who identify themselves as EVANGELICAL are about 26.3% according to Pew. And those numbers are shrinking.

      More than one-quarter of American adults (28%) have left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion – or no religion at all. If change in affiliation from one type of Protestantism to another is included, 44% of adults have either switched religious affiliation, moved from being unaffiliated with any religion to being affiliated with a particular faith, or dropped any connection to a specific religious tradition altogether.

      The survey finds that the number of people who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith today (16.1%) is more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with any particular religion as children. Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.

      The Landscape Survey confirms that the United States is on the verge of becoming a minority Protestant country; the number of Americans who report that they are members of Protestant denominations now stands at barely 51%

      http://religions.pewforum.org/reports

      That is one in 5 overall for the poor Evangelicals. The issue most of us have is that most of those zealots are in command decision positions.

      Have you ever met an evangelical christer? Ever meet a Moooslim terrorist? Like you, they both whine a lot about not getting their way, because their way is the ONLY WAY. And that is a terrorist, to me.

      “in order to bring you the love of our Christian/Muslim God (one and the same, if it exists), we will kill you.” That is a bunch of GD terroristic jingoism to me. American soldiers who openly talk of Christian Crusades in the Middle East are terrorists by definition; just not to ‘us’.

      Personally, I think anyone who has publicly confessed to believing the Bible is the literal word of God should be forbidden any military rank above E-4, including the CIC. That pesky Armageddon myth; it’s the ONLY WAY Jesus will return and send everyone not perfect in the eye of god to Hell, isn’t it? Without Armageddon, there is no real proof you guys have a clue what myths you are spouting.

      But like you, I digress…
      Your evangelicals are a distinct minority in the military. Get used to it; no more special privileges in the name of the Holy Ghost™.

      • Rick Day says:

        One day soon, people like me will tire of people like Collins and their Creator Stories, and quickly dispatch them back into the private sector.

        THEN you watch these butt kissing politicians turn on their gods! It’s all lip service to select voting blocks anyway…

      • Noway says:

        Quick response, Rick, why include only Protestants at you cited stat of 51%? Catholics are Christians, too. Throw them into your little mix and the numbers are north of 70%.

        Thanks for playing!

        Oh, and yes, I have met a Moooslim terrorist. I work overseas training foreign government security forces. I have also met many, many more peace loving Muslims, too. Some of the best people on this planet!! I count many of them as friends and colleagues.

    • saltycracker says:

      Exciting ? The new PP is scorched earth gets more attention, playing nice is for wussy sites. Shout ’em, gross ’em off the stage won’t end nicely.

        • saltycracker says:

          Grift, George and Rick have a comprehension issue of what a “relatively mild” personal rebuttal comment is.

      • mpierce says:

        Yet it wasn’t that long ago they reprimanded LDIG for “negativity”, “combativeness”, and “too much volume”.

      • George Chidi says:

        This is playing nice.

        Certainly, I’m using direct language, but to draw attention to an appropriate and reasoned critique of the good Congressman’s position. The strength of this language is quite intentional in this case, using the voice of a junior-enlisted soldier rebutting the argument. Every (good) colorful metaphor I’ve learned has either been in a Warren Ellis comic book, a Boston bar or in the barracks.

        He needs to hear it, and he needs to hear it just like this. Current enlisted guys aren’t going to tell an officer to kiss their ass, for obvious reasons. But that’s exactly what they’ll be thinking. It is the subtly coercive nature of what Collins suggests should remain acceptable that demands forceful and direct language in reply.

        Is it personal? I called him a miserable theocrat. He is suggesting that it is acceptable for government officials to advocate for their religious beliefs when they are in a position of coercive authority over other government employees. I’d say it fits. His argument begins with a sense of his own, personal disturbance as a chaplain — he made this about himself. A critique of his person is fair game.

  6. GAGOPforliberty says:

    Resign your commission? Seriously? This is your take on intelligent discourse and the respectful exchange of ideas.

    In addition to needing a cup of coffee (or a shot or two of whiskey), you irate ranters obviously do not know Congressman Collins (and demonstrate a lack of respect for the men and women in uniform who serve our county to protect the rights of folks like you to spew angry drivel). Although he is a man of devout faith, he is not a proselytizer. He has a well-deserved reputation for respecting all faiths and respecting the viewpoints of others who may claim no religious faith at all. Nothing in his column advocates for the ability of chaplains to try to convert servicemen and servicewoman. Agree or disagree with his position, at least get the argument right when begin down the road of soapbox ranting.

    No one–including Congressman Collins–would dispute that there are instances of religious (and ethnic and gender and racial other forms of) discrimination in the military, just as there are in other parts of the public and in the private sector. I am not sure how this justifies the screed-filled comments you have made or how it relates to what Congressman Collins wrote. Did you miss this part:

    As chaplain, my job was to protect the religious freedoms of all service members, whether they
    had a certain religious preference or not. I took that job very seriously, but it didn’t require me
    to hide my Christianity.

    It does not even matter whether you agree with his viewpoint, but it is deserving of a respectful discussion, rather than the absurd personal attacks that squander the value of whatever sensible points you are trying to make.

  7. Three Jack says:

    I’m with George and Rick on this one based on personal experiences in the Navy a couple decades ago. Higher ranking members got away with ‘encouraging’ NCOs to participate in certain activities/fundraisers that had religious affiliations. I hope the military is cracking down on these practices which not only go against an individual’s rights, but also can result in other consequences if one ignores the ‘encouragement’.

    The congressman obviously has little experience in the real military where members give up their ‘rights’ upon enlistment (you are reminded of this quite often during basic training). He wrote, “Depriving our service members of this First Amendment freedom – one of the liberties for which they sacrifice so much – would be wrong.” Would the congressman support a muslim ignoring orders to participate in a scheduled drill if it was a conflict with his time to face Mecca and pray? Service members do not have the right of free speech so it stands to reason that the rest of the 1st Amendment is no longer in play when you volunteer to join. The congressman should resign his commission.

    • GAGOPforliberty says:

      This line of “resign his commission” silliness is hardly deserving of a reply, except that the absurdity is being directed at an honorable man. I would suggest that you should all be ashamed, but shame does not seem to be in your bailiwicks.

      Just out curiosity, how many of you folks who have spoken so authoritatively about the military have actually served a tour in Iraq as has Congressman Collins? Is he the one with “little experience?” You doth protest too much, methinks.

      • George Chidi says:

        I was an active duty soldier for five years, posted for four of those five with an infantry division. Oddly enough, two of the other people who appear to have taken my position on this — ThreeJack and Rick, also have served in the military.

        Not that it matters. We are all citizens and voters. I take very strong issue with the Praetorian mentality that civilians shouldn’t tell soldiers what to do — the alternative is a kind of soft fascism against which I would quite willingly go to war to prevent.

        If a man has moral or ethical values which are not compatible with American military service, he shouldn’t serve. Enlisted people don’t have the luxury of simply quitting the service, but a commissioned officer (after the first tour or so) may simply resign. The man has been given a lawful order. Follow it, or quit.

        • GAGOPforliberty says:

          So the answer would be “no.”

          Is your thinking that if a person disagrees with military policy, he or she should quit instead of trying to effect change? Would you have suggested that service members should have not advocated for integration either, just quit if they did not like the policy? Can I guess your position on women seeking combat roles?

          So member of the military who thought gays should serve in the military when that was banned should have resigned their commissions, and now those who oppose it should do the same. Makes for a good O.J.-esque soundbite: “If the policy don’t fit, you have to quit.”

          The point is not even whether you agree or disagree with the position of Congressman Collins, it is instead the hang-’em-mentality with which your approach your opposition.

          What a sad and unfortunate mob mentality you and the others display.

          • George Chidi says:

            There is a significant difference between having a disagreement with policy that does not interfere with one’s ability to perform their military duties and one that does. You can oppose gays in the military, but unless that opposition rises to the level of being unable to serve with one, there’s no incompatibility with service. I would say the same thing about officers whose personal moral code prevented them from serving equally with black soldiers … or with gays and lesbians who might have viewed military service in an openly-discriminatory Army.

            Serving as an officer is a choice. I expect officers to uphold the law, and the Constitution, and their orders.

            The policy in question is asking him to refrain from using his authority as a government official to proselytize to a captive audience of subordinates, and to refrain from punishing soldiers who do not share his faith. If he really views this as incompatible with his moral code as a minister, he shouldn’t serve.

          • George Chidi says:

            And as far as women in combat roles … if they’ve got game, let ’em play. But, no, I do not believe the standards should be lowered, and neither do the vast majority of female service members. If a mutant she-hulk Brianne figure from “Game of Thrones” is out there, we’d be stupid not to give her a rifle and get out of the way. As it is right now, there are plenty of women in combat roles, because the concept of the front line is radically different. Fighter pilots, medics, et cetera. The only reason I think women probably won’t make it in armor units is because breaking track is a gigantic pain in the ass even for strong men. Ditto for shlepping around artillery shells.

            • GAGOPforliberty says:

              That really misses the point, right? Your suggestion is that if the service members disagrees with the policy, he or she should resign, so anyone that shares your view should resign.

          • Three Jack says:

            If for no other reason than pure ignorance, the congressman should consider resigning his commission. As a member of the military, you don’t have ‘rights’. Did you ever serve GAGOPforliberty? From your posts, it appears not or you would know how far off base the congressman is with his editorial which concludes with a veiled threat to use his elected position as a means of ensuring religious proselytization can take place within military ranks.

            The men and women serving our country honorably deserve our utmost respect, especially over the past decade as many have been called to battle stations. They do not deserve to be harassed by sanctimonious hypocrites hellbent on converting non-believers into mind-numbed Jesus freaks. Congressman Collins needs to either learn how to separate his day job as an elected official from his PT gig as an AF Chaplain, or resign one of the posts.

            • GAGOPforliberty says:

              This is the leap in logic that I am trying to understand. From where in the column do you draw the conclusion that he “veiled threat to use his elected position as a means of ensuring religious proselytization can take place within military ranks.” To put it in your terms, which line, sentence or word is it that leads you to the conclusion that a man that I suspect you have never met is one of “sanctimonious hypocrites hellbent on converting non-believers into mind-numbed Jesus freaks?” Those of us who know Congressman Collins (and I hope anyone of reason) first laughs and then shakes their head at such a empty tirade.

              BTW, someone should probably alert the Armed Forces that they are way off-base in teaching this nonsense about military members having rights: http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/law/rights_of_military_mbrs.pdf.

                • GAGOPforliberty says:

                  Is this the quote that backs up the accusation? This is the one that says, “I will use my elected position to further the agenda of us sanctimonious hypocrites hellbent on converting non-believers into mind-numbed Jesus freaks?” A new slogan for the military: “Protecting religious freedom in the military and converting non-believers into mind-numbed Jesus freaks.” Kinda catchy.

                  • griftdrift says:

                    You asked. I answered. You responded. And once again showed that your version of “conservatism” can only be described kindly as – narrow.

                    • GAGOPforliberty says:

                      Huh? How is asking you to back up an argument with a single fact a test of my political beliefs?

                      A hallmark of conservatism (putting aside the point that you have no idea what my beliefs are) is thoughtful consideration of facts, rather than merely relying on sound bites or pejoratives to make an argument. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be much fact-gathering going into the blanket statements being made in these posts, just conclusory statements.

                      I am merely requesting that a posted statement be fact-based and data-driven, rather than emotional and unsubstantiated. While I happen to agree that no one in the military should attempting to convert anyone to a religious belief, that has nothing to with Congressman Collins’s column or the uncorroborated allegations made against him.

                    • James says:

                      “A hallmark of conservatism . . . is thoughtful consideration of facts, rather than merely relying on sound bites or pejoratives to make an argument.”

                      **rimshot. Thanks folks, I’ll be here all week. Be sure to tip your waitress.

              • Three Jack says:

                From your link supposedly showing military members have rights – “Freedom of the Press
                Private possession of written material, other than classified matter, by Servicemembers does not generally (italics added) have a negative effect on military discipline or effectiveness. The public display or distribution of written material should be prohibited, however, if the servicemember’s interest in expression is outweighed by command interest in maintaining morale, good order, and discipline. Examples of prohibited material include hate literature and forms of pornography.” That was just a quick glance, I’m sure there are many more examples of rights being restricted and/or abolished when someone voluntarily agrees to join the military. I was there, I know what rights we did and didn’t have…did you serve GAGOPforliberty?

                Regarding your other point, the congressman refers to this decision by the Pentagon – “Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense,” the statement reads. “Court martials and non-judicial punishments are decided on a case-by-case basis and it would be inappropriate to speculate on the outcome in specific cases.” Collins replies, “As a U.S. Air Force Reserve chaplain, I cannot express how deeply this announcement troubles me.”

                He then concludes with the quote grift posted, “I’ll be working with likeminded congressional colleagues to protect religious freedom in our military.”

                I think that about covers it.

                Now answer my question GAGOP dude; Would the congressman support a muslim ignoring orders to participate in a scheduled (or unscheduled real life call to duty) drill if it was a conflict with his time to face Mecca and pray 6x a day?

        • Harry says:

          My military time was greatly enhanced by having spiritual resources available on two or three key occasions – on base as well as off base. It would have been helpful had I taken more use of them. Nobody tried to proselytize or influence me when on duty.

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