Members of Congress are concerned over how much influence the Military Religious Freedom Foundation may have in military policies that critics fear may curtail religious freedom within the Armed Forces.
Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) is circulating a letter on Capitol Hill seeking assurances from the Department of Defense that the religious freedoms of service members are protected. He also wants to know who the Pentagon has been consulting with on revisions to religious freedom regulations.
“Congress deliberately included religious freedom protections in the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) to address this growing pattern of hostility and to protect the constitutionality guaranteed right of religious freedom for our service members and chaplains,” Lamborn wrote in a letter obtained by Fox News.
President Obama took the unusual step of noting that the conscience protections were “unnecessary and ill-advised.”
Lamborn said the president’s statement – along with reports of Christianity under attack have raised “concerns that the military is developing a culture that is hostile to religion.”
He noted recent incidents that included a 2011 memorandum that banned visitors from bringing Bibles and other religious materials into Walter Reed Hospital and a memorandum from Gen. Norton A. Schwartz that prohibited commanders from notifying Airmen about Chaplain Corps programs.
- READ: REAR ADMIRAL SAYS RELIGIOUS FREEDOM UNDER ATTACK IN MILITARY
- READ: AIR FORCE OFFICER TOLD TO REMOVE BIBLE FROM DESK
Last month, an Army briefing labeled Evangelical Christians and Catholics as examples of religious extremism. They were included on a list that also mentioned Al Qaeda and Hamas.
“It appalls me to hear the military of the freest nation in the world has labeled people of faith as religious extremists and continues this hostile attitude even after offering a half-hearted, public apology,” said Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA).
Collins, who is a minister and Air Force reservist, is demanding the military end all religious censorship.
“Our valiant servicemen and women are fighting every single day to protect our individual freedoms, how can we idly stand aside and let theirs be so easily taken?” he asked.
The latest concerns came after Mikey Weinstein, head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation met with military officials at the Pentagon about an instructional guide on religious tolerance.
Weinstein called for the military to enforce a regulation that he believes calls for the court martial of any service member who proselytizes.
“Someone needs to be punished for this,” Weinstein told Fox News. “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.”
Weinstein compared the act of proselytizing to rape.
“It is a version of being spiritually raped and you are being spiritually raped by fundamentalist Christian religious predators,” he said.
The Pentagon initially issued a statement acknowledging that religious proselytizing is not permitted within the Department of Defense.
On May 2, they issued a new statement noting that “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).”
“The U.S. Department of Defense has never and will never single out a particular religious group for persecution or prosecution,” Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen said in a statement. “The Department makes reasonable accommodations for all religions and celebrates the religious diversity of our service members.”
However, last Thursday, Coast Guard Rear Admiral William Lee dropped a bombshell at a National Day of Prayer gathering in Washington, D.C. when he declared that religious freedom is under attack.
“As one general so aptly put it – they expect us to check our religion in at the door – don’t bring that here,” Lee told the audience. “Leaders like myself are feeling the constraints of rules and regulations and guidance issued by lawyers that put us in a tighter and tighter box regarding our constitutional rights to express our religious faith.”
And the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Freedom reported that an Air Force officer was told to remove a Bible from his desk because it might imply he condoned a certain religion.
Meanwhile, members of Congress and religious liberty groups want to know how much influence Weinstein may have at the Pentagon.
“The fact that the U.S. Air Force is consulting with Mr. Weinstein and possibly allowing him to shape policies relative to religious freedom is of great concern to Christians across the nation,” wrote Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Jerry Boykin in a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.
Boykin, an executive vice president of the Family Research Council, said nearly 150,000 people have signed a petition supporting true religious freedom in the military.
Christensen said Weinstein is not part of any Department of Defense advisory group – nor is he a consultant to the Defense Department regarding religious matters.
“Mr. Weinstein requested and was granted a meeting at the Pentagon April 23, with the Air Force Judge Advocate General and others, to include the Deputy Chief of Chaplains, to express his concerns of religious issues in the military.”
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice said Weinstein’s beliefs and statements are not only offensive, “but clearly represent the vehement intolerance that our military should reject.”
“To use him as an adviser in crafting policy for religious tolerance is absurd,” Sekulow said. “Without question, he’s among the world’s worst candidates to advise Pentagon officials on religious matters. This extremist has no business advising the Pentagon on any matters – much less the critically important need to protect the religious freedom of our men and women serving in the military.”
Christensen stressed that the Pentagon “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 policy) the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs.”