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?