(CNSNews.com) – The House Armed Services Committee approved a measure on Thursday to protect religious liberty in the military amid growing disputes over expression of faith.
The measure, approved as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), comes less than a week after a painting with reference to a Bible verse was removed from a dining hall at the Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho in apparent response to demands from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a church-state separation group. The NDAA now goes to the full House of Representatives for a vote.
“The men and women who put their lives on the line to defend our freedoms should not have their own religious freedom jeopardized during their military service,” said Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), who offered the amendment.
“Steps to protect the religious liberties of our armed forces were taken in last year’s NDAA, but troubling reports indicate that the military may be focused only on protecting beliefs of service members and not the exercise or expression of those beliefs. My amendment is necessary to ensure that men and women of faith will not be discriminated against in the armed forces, and will be free to exercise their religious beliefs.”
The amendment was approved by a vote 33-26.
Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) President Mikey Weinstein has met with Pentagon officials to express concerns about proselytizing in the military. The MRFF claims that within 56 minutes of Weinstein’s telephone call to the Pentagon, a painting with a reference to Matthew 5:9 -- “Blessed are the peacemakers” -- was removed from an Air Force base in Idaho last week.
Weinstein said his group is not anti-Christian or anti-religious. He nevertheless puts religious proselytizing on a par with terrorist groups and sexual assault.
“This is a national security threat internally to this country every bit as much as we’re facing externally by Taliban, al Qaeda and the jihadists,” Weinstein told CNSNews.com. “Let me make it very clear. What we’re talking about is a fanatical religiosity.”
Weinstein, in an interview with CNSNews.com, said religious proselytizing can be dehumanizing.
“If you’re in the workplace, the military workplace can be a cockpit, can be a foxhole, a ship, it can be any place, in a Bradley fighting vehicle, in duty hours in uniform during the work day, and you outrank the person you’re proselytizing to, you are in violation of your oath to the Constitution and a million different Department of Defense directives,” Weinstein said.
“If people are routinely, as they do around the clock, violating DOD instructions, regulations and the Constitution with regard to spreading their faith, if you don’t punish someone visibly and aggressively, all it does is make a mockery of the laws against it and increases the problem a million fold,” Weinstein said.
“To this point, we have never seen a single example of anyone in the history of the Pentagon be punished for essentially becoming religious predators on otherwise helpless subordinates that can’t fight back,” he said.
The Washington Post reported on an April meeting with Weinstein and Pentagon personnel in which they talked about court-martialing superior officers who proselytize to subordinates. In an interview with CNSNews.com, Weinstein did not back away from comparing spreading the faith with sexual assault.
“If a military superior of any rank tells a subordinate that you lack integrity, character, trust, intelligence, honor and honorability because of your chosen religious faith or lack thereof, why is there no difference between that and telling someone they’re stupid for the color of their skin or because they were born a female?” Weinstein said. “That’s why we use the term spiritual rape. They’re being denigrated. They are being oppressed.”
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins commended the House committee.
“Congress acted appropriately after investigating numerous incidents involving service members who have had their careers threatened simply for practicing their faith in a real and tangible way,” Perkins said in a statement.
“The religious liberty violations have grown more frequent in recent months including a report yesterday that an Army master sergeant has been reprimanded for serving Chick-fil-A sandwiches at his promotion ceremony. A rear admiral also recently recounted how he defied military regulations by giving a Bible to a soldier who had attempted suicide.”
More than 167,000 Americans signed a Family Research Council petition calling on Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to enact a department-wide policy protecting the right to service members to practice their faith, Perkins said.
“Instead, the Pentagon under the secretary’s leadership has continued to comply with the demands of anti-Christian activist Mikey Weinstein,” Perkins continued. “The chilling effect of this religious suppression has reached every branch of the military, particularly the Air Force, which is why this congressional action is so urgently needed.”