Acton Institute Powerblog

Will the Pentagon Court-martial Servicemembers for Sharing Their Faith?

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U.S. troops who proselytize are guilty of sedition and treason and should be punished to stave off a “tidal wave of fundamentalists.” That’s what Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, told Fox News. Weinstein and his group met privately with Pentagon officials on April 23 to try to convince them to punish military officers who engage in such devious evangelistic tactics as having a Christian bumper sticker on their car or a Bible on their desk. Weinstein says such activities can can amount to “pushing this fundamentalist version of Christianity on helpless subordinates.”

military“If a member of the military is proselytizing in a manner that violates the law, well then of course they can be prosecuted,” he said. “We would love to see hundreds of prosecutions to stop this outrage of fundamentalist religious persecution.”

“[Proselytizing] is a version of being spiritually raped and you are being spiritually raped by fundamentalist Christian religious predators,” Weinstein told Fox News.

The Pentagon confirmed to Fox News that Christian proselytization is against regulations. “Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense, LCDR Nate Christensen said in a written statement.

Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, who served as White House Counsel in the Reagan administration and general counsel to H.Ross Perot, is an anti-religion extremist who is not taken seriously by anyone outside the secular political left (see here to see how unhinged he can be). But if Pentagon officials become convinced that his peculiar anti-evangelism perspective is indeed within the bounds of military regulations, it could have a chilling effect on how Christians in the military share their faith.

Everyone in the military agrees that a leader should not be coercive or use their power and influence to force their religion on anyone. In my entire career in the Marines I never once heard a commander suggest anything coercive, such as that we were expected to attend their Bible study. But I did have many leaders that invited me to church or talked about their faith with both believers (like me) and those who did not share our faith. Should they have been court-martialed? Will they be in the future?

Unfortunately, while we used to be able to answer such questions with an obvious “no,” the answer is no longer so clear. The current administration has established a shameful reputation for disregarding the religious freedoms of American citizens. While Christians will want to give them the benefit of the doubt, the Pentagon should make it clear that they will respect the religious liberties of the men and women whose job it is to protect such freedoms.

Update: Over at Mirror of Justice, my friend Rick Garnett has an excellent post on proselytism, evangelization, and the First Amendment in which he raises a very significant point about balance:

. . . it seems to me really important that any regulations and policies designed to (quite appropriately) protect our men and women in the service from abuses of superiors’ authority (whether those abuses involve unwanted and aggressive religious messages, or take any other form) not reflect a premise or presumption that the content of traditional religious teachings and practices is substantively objectionable and therefore not-to-be-discussed-or-advocated in the armed services and also not reflect a premise or presumption that evangelism itself — the invitation to “come over” — (as opposed to abusive instances of it) is objectionable, even among members of the service.

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).