A high-ranking Coast Guard official said at a National Day of Prayer gathering that religious liberty in the U.S. military is being threatened and that service members are being told to hide their faith in Christ, according to a videotape obtained by Fox News.
“As one general so aptly put it – they expect us to check our religion in at the door – don’t bring that here,” Rear Admiral William Lee told a National Day of Prayer gathering. “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 right to express our religious faith.”
The crowd of religious leaders and lawmakers cheered for nearly a minute when Lee vowed to defy any attempt to curtail religious liberty within the Armed Forces.
“I am coming out today to tell you I am not going to run from my religious beliefs, from my right under the Constitution to tell a young man there is hope,” he declared in remarks first reported by World Magazine.
Lee told the audience he had set aside his prepared remarks and instead chose to speak from the heart about the challenges facing Christian service members.
“The problem that men and women like me face in uniform who are in senior leadership positions is that the higher you are – the more vulnerable you are to being taken down,” he said. “You get in the crosshairs of those people who lay in wait outside the gate – waiting to take us to task for expressing our faith.”
In recent days, the Pentagon has been accused of infringing on the religious liberty of Christian service members.
Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen said in a statement the Department of Defense has never and will never single out a particular religious group for persecution or prosecution.
“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 statement read.
Lee told the audience he was not talking about proselytizing.
“I am vehemently against that,” he said. “I’m talking about gently whispering the Gospel.”
There have been dozens of complaints about the military targeting Christians. Last month an Army briefing labeled Evangelical Christians and Catholics as examples of religious extremism – linking them to Al Qaeda and Hamas. In another incident, an Army officer warned subordinates that the Family Research Council and American Family Association were domestic hate groups.
Among other instances:
- A War Games scenario at Fort Leavenworth that identified Christian groups and Evangelical groups as being potential threats;
- A 2009 Dept. of Homeland Security memorandum that identified future threats to national security coming from Evangelicals and pro-life groups;
- A West Point study released by the U.S. Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center that linked pro-lifers to terrorism;
- Evangelical leader Franklin Graham was uninvited from the Pentagon’s National Day of Prayer service because of his comments about Islam;
- Christian prayers were banned at the funeral services for veterans at Houston’s National Cemetery;
- Bibles were banned at Walter Reed Army Medical Center – a decision that was later rescinded;
- Christian crosses and a steeple were removed from a chapel in Afghanistan because the military said the icons disrespected other religions;
- Catholic chaplains were told not to read a letter to parishioners from their archbishop related to Obamcare mandates. The Secretary of the Army feared the letter could be viewed as a call for civil disobedience.
Lee illustrated his argument that faith is being threatened by telling the story of a young service member who tried to commit suicide but survived.
“When I looked at that young man and heard his story – the rules say – ‘send him to the chaplain,’” Lee told the audience. “My heart said, give this man a Bible.”
Lee said such an act would be a violation of policy. He marveled that he could be reprimanded for “as much as whispering to a young man who is on his last hope – that there is hope. That I can just simply whisper, ‘here is the answer – take it home – I’ll talk about it if you want to.’”
“The lawyers tell me that if I do that – I’m crossing the line,” he said. “I’m so glad I’ve crossed that line so many times.”
Lee said they’ve been told to “leave that to the chaplains. I’m here to tell you there’s not enough chaplains to go around.”
He warned the audience that a religious storm was fast approaching the armed forces.
“Your armed forces, the sons and daughters of the men and women like you,” he said, “are being told to hide that light under a basket.”
He urged them to pray for those who seek to follow Christ in the military.
“Pray that we will be able to weather the storm that I am almost certain will come – that we will not be required to put aside our Constitutional rights,” he said.