The Pentagon announced today that military members who want to talk about their faith with other members have every right to do so, backtracking on a previous warning against “proselytizing,” which it said could be subject to court-martial.
The statement from Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen said the Department of Defense “never and will never single out a particular religious group for persecution or prosecution.”
The Pentagon walked back its statement earlier this week after the Alliance Defending Freedom filed a Freedom of Information Act request for records relating to Pentagon statements on the issue.
“Members of our military should not be denied the very freedoms they fight to defend. Freedom of religion and speech are paramount among those freedoms,” said ADF Legal Counsel Joseph La Rue. “We appreciate the Pentagon’s clarification, but little or no evidence exists of coercive proselytization in the military, so we are still troubled over what motivated the original comments.
The Pentagon’s Christensen said in the statement today that the Department of Defense department “makes reasonable accommodations for all religions and celebrates the religious diversity of our service members.”
“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),” he said.
Christensen said that if a service member “harasses another member on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, or disability, then the commander takes action based on the gravity of the occurrence.”
“Likewise, when religious harassment complaints are reported, commanders take action based on the gravity of the occurrence on a case by case basis,” he said.
The Department of Defense, Christensen said, places “a high value on the rights of members of the military services to observe the tenets of their respective religions and respects (and supports by its policy) the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs.”
He said members are free to exercise their constitutional right to practice their religion “in a manner that is respectful of other individuals’ rights to follow their own belief systems; and in ways that are conducive to good order and discipline; and that do not detract from accomplishing the military mission.”
The issue surfaced after activist Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religion Freedom organization met with department officials and then wrote that Christians in the military are “monsters” who must be stopped from talking about their faith.
Weinstein had declared: “We face incredibly well-funded gangs of fundamentalist Christian monsters who terrorize their fellow Americans by forcing their weaponized and twisted version of Christianity upon their helpless subordinates in our nation’s armed forces.”
In an interview with Fox News, Weinstein said the military needs to begin prosecuting Christians who share their faith.
“Someone needs to be punished for this,” he said. “Until the Air Force or Army or Navy or Marine Corps punishes a member of the military for unconstitutional religious proselytizing and oppression, we will never have the ability to stop this horrible, horrendous, dehumanizing behavior.”
It seemed the military was listening.
After a private meeting between Weinstein and Pentagon officials April 23, a Pentagon spokesman declared, “Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense.”
Christensen said at the time that “courts martial 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.”
ADF’s LaRue said his organization is serious about “investigating this gross error,” because it wants “to ensure that the Pentagon does not deny members of the armed services the basic freedoms that the Constitution guarantees all Americans.”
Weinstein, according to Fox News’ Todd Starnes, told officials at the meeting that U.S. troops who evangelize are guilty of sedition and treason and should be punished, by the hundreds if necessary.
But leaders of the Washington-based Family Research Council, which recently faced a violent attack by a leftist who said his goal was to kill as many people as he could, said the Pentagon’s apparent intent to punish evangelism makes no sense.