Admiral Speaks Defiantly Against Anti-Proselytizing Rule: 'My Heart Said Give This Man a Bible'

Fred Lucas | May 7, 2013 | 11:28am EDT
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A Navy chaplain reads from the Bible. (AP Photo)

( – Amid increased reports of a policy for courts martial over so-called proselytizing in the military, Coast Guard Rear Admiral William D. Lee recalled giving a Bible to a distressed serviceman who had previously tried to kill himself.

“Yet, if I do something, such as I did several weeks ago when I was looking into the face of a young man, 20-something years old, who had 18 months before put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger and survived, when I looked at that young man and I heard his story, the rules say send him to the chaplain. My heart said, give this man a Bible,” Lee said last week during a speech on the National Day of Prayer on Capitol Hill.

He added that military leadership faces extra hurdles.

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“The higher you are, the more vulnerable you are to being taken down,” Lee continued. “You get in the cross hairs of those people who lay and wait outside the gate, waiting to take us to task for expressing our faith for so much as whispering to a young man who is on his last hope that ‘there is hope. Take it home. We can talk about it if you want.’ The lawyers tell me that if I do that, I’m crossing the line. I’m so glad I have crossed that line so many times.”

The rear admiral’s remarks came after The Washington Post reported on April 26 that a 27-page document of regulations from the Air Force said, “Leaders at all levels must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to preferential treatment for any religion.”

The document even suggested that noncompliance could result in court-martial, according to the Post.

“I am not talking about proselytizing. I am vehemently against that,” Lee said. “I’m talking about gently whispering the gospel. You’re likely to see much ado about this in the future, but I leave you with this: This is not a Christian issue. It is not a Jewish issue, a Muslim issue or a Hindu issue. This is an American issue.”

Family Research Council spokesman J.P. Duffy confirmed that Lee did give a Bible to the service member mentioned in the speech after being told by military lawyers he should refer service members to a chaplain.

Post columnist Sally Quinn wrote that she interviewed Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former ambassador Joe Wilson and the head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, Mikey Weinstein, before and after they meet with Pentagon officials on the perceived problem of proselytizing.

The column said, “The chaplain’s role, according to Wilson, ‘is to minister to spiritual needs. You don’t proselytize. It’s a workplace violation.’” Wilson is also quoted saying, “You need half a dozen court-martials real quick.”

The column, sympathetic to the anti-religious expression group, further quoted Weinstein saying, “This is a national security threat. What is happening [aside from sexual assault] is spiritual rape. And what the Pentagon needs to understand is that it is sedition and treason. It should be punished.”

During his remarks last week, Lee decided to discard his prepared speech and speak from the heart. Lee said that the number of people in the military make up only about one percent of the U.S. population, but that every 65 minutes, an active duty military or military veteran who served the country commits suicide.

“They are willing to put their lives on the line. In so doing, they endure stresses that the average American would never know,” Lee said. “As one general so aptly put it, they expect us to check our religion at the door. Don’t bring that here. Leave that business to the chaplains. I’m here to tell you there’s not enough chaplains to go around. And who can tell that young man who is downtrodden and on his last legs, who has no hope to go make an appointment to see the chaplain? Go get in line and wait.”

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins praised Lee for his comments.

“If you want to know what courage is, this is it,” Perkins said. “It's not a basketball player fielding flattering calls from the president and admiring tweets from Hollywood. It’s standing in the fire and fighting for truth when 30 years of service hang in the balance. For now, Admiral Lee asks people to please ‘pray that we will be able to weather the storm that I am almost certain will come.’ And in many cases, is already here.”

FRC Executive Vice President retired Gen. Jerry Boykin said, “You want a real hero? Just look no further than Rear Admiral William D Lee.”

“Hopefully, the skeptics who have offered opinions about the extent of hostility toward

Christians in our uniformed services will wake up and take notice of what the Admiral said yesterday,” Boykin said. “He is giving you the truth, and it is hard truth that must cause concern among all Americans and not just Christians," concluded Boykin.

More than 140,000 people signed the FRC’s petition to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel asking him to protect the religious liberty of military personnel.

Last week, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen said in a written statement, “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),” according to the military newspaper Stars and Stripes.

This came after two conflicting statements Christensen made to Fox News.

Last month, Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, wrote in the Huffington Post that his organization was fighting off a conspiracy by “fundamentalist Christian monsters.” In the post, he called the FRC the “Freedom Restriction Conspiracy.”

In November 2011, Weinstein filed a complaint against the Air Force Academy because it sent an email to cadets asking for support for Samaritan's Purse's Operation Christmas Child. Within 24 hours, the academy sent an apology, according to the FRC.

That same year, Weinstein proclaimed a “monumental victory” after Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz issued a memorandum in which he told his commanders not to “promote their religious beliefs to their subordinates.”

The FRC cites other examples, including the suspension of a 20-year-old class on the ‘Just War Theory,’ because it included scriptural references; stripping of 'God' from the Rapid Capabilities motto and the purging of Bibles from Air Force Inn checklists and a Fort Leavenworth War Games scenario identified Christian and evangelical groups as potential threats.

In a letter to Hagel, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) cited other examples such as “a power point presentation used in equal opportunity training to an Army reserve unit in Pennsylvania” that included “evangelical Christians, Catholics, Mormons, Sunni Muslims, and some Jews on a list of religious extremist groups alongside groups like Al Qaeda and Hamas,” and prohibited Bibles from the Walter Reed Army hospital.

“Congress deliberately included religious freedom protections in the NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act] to address this growing pattern of hostility and to protect the constitutionally guaranteed right of religious freedom for our service members and chaplains,” Lamborn wrote. “Upon signing the NDAA into law, President Obama said the conscience protections were ‘unnecessary and ill-advised.’ This statement, coupled with recent events, raises concerns that the military is developing a culture that is hostile to religion.”

In his Jan. 3 signing statement, Obama said, “Section 533 is an unnecessary and ill- advised provision, as the military already appropriately protects the freedom of conscience of chaplains and service members. The Secretary of Defense will ensure that the implementing regulations do not permit or condone discriminatory actions that compromise good order and discipline or otherwise violate military codes of conduct. My Administration remains fully committed to continuing the successful implementation of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and to protecting the rights of gay and lesbian service members; Section 533 will not alter that.”

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