(CNSNews.com) – Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) urged Deborah Lee James, President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of the Air Force, to look into specific cases in which the military allegedly suppressed service members’ religious rights before she is confirmed by the U.S. Senate. "We're going to give you about 42 specific examples as a followup," Vitter told her.
“A lot of us are very concerned about what in our opinion is political correctness run amok on steroids quashing legitimate exercise and expression of religion in the military, things like… telling somebody they can’t have a Bible on their desk - that’s a documented case. Telling a Christian chaplain he can’t end a prayer in Jesus’ name – that’s a documented case,” Vitter told James at her nomination hearing Thursday.
“Do you think these sort of issues are a problem and if so, what would you do about it?” the Louisiana Republican asked.
“I have actually read the policy of the Department of Defense and I know what that policy says,” James replied. "It says that the open ability to worship, there shall be freedom of all religions so long as within good order and discipline. And I know that the chaplains, the whole point that they put forth, is that there shall be dignity and respect for everyone, of course.”
Noting that she was not familiar with the particular cases Vitter referred to, James added, “Of course, it’s a question of if you have a policy, the policy seems good to me, but then you have some people who don’t follow the policy, so these individual cases we’ll have to look into.”
Vitter persisted. “Do you think those actions should be barred in the military?”
“So having a Bible on your desk, that doesn’t seem like it should be barred to me, no,” James said.
“And a Christian chaplain ending a prayer in Christ’s name?” he asked.
“It does not seem bad to me, and I’ll have to, if you’ll allow me to consult with the chaplaincy corps to find out some reason I’m not thinking about, but no, it certainly does not trouble me,” James replied.
“Religious freedom is one of the core principles that make our nation great,” Vitter said later in a press release. “Unfortunately there are far too many cases of the military restricting the men and women who serve our country from expressing their faith. That’s just not right, and I want to make sure the Air Force Secretary nominee does everything she can to fix it.”
Vitter referred to a recent report by the Family Research Council (FRC) criticizing the military's “opposition to conservative Christian beliefs, reportedly including banning Bibles, labeling evangelicals and Catholics extremists, and trying to force a soldier to endorse gay marriage.” (See A Clear and Present Danger.pdf)
However, committee chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich) said during Thursday’s hearing that “in terms of the reference to prayer, depending on where a prayer is made, if it’s made to a general audience, it could be a different responsibility for a chaplain than if it’s made to an audience of his own religion.
“This is a very sensitive area, because we want to protect freedom of religion for chaplains and for our troops, but we also want to protect the freedom of religion for people who are listening to chaplains,” Levin continued. “And so it’s a very serious subject which has been raised and it’s deserving of all of our attention.”
Levin referred to an alleged incident reported by Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, who told CNSNews.com in July that a 23-year veteran Air Force officer was told by his superior, “You cannot put your Bible on your desk because it may offend someone.”
Levin also asked James to look into the incident “and see what action was taken to correct it, because we’ve had difficulty confirming it.”
James agreed to report her findings to the full committee, adding that “the idea of dignity and respect for all religions, to include those who have no religion at all – it’s all equally important.”