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No Ban on Military Evangelism, Despite Conservative Fears

(UPDATED) Chaplains and politicians protest Obama’s promise to veto religious liberty amendment to military spending bill.

Update (July 11): Religion News Service reports that supporters of a religious liberty amendment are protesting the Obama Administration's promise to veto the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act if it is approved while including the amendment.

According to the White House's statement, the Administration "strongly objects" to the amendment's protection of religious speech and actions. It claims that "by limiting the discretion of commanders to address potentially problematic speech and actions within their units, this provision would have a significant adverse effect on good order, discipline, morale, and mission accomplishment." The bill is currently worded to "accommodate the beliefs" of service members. The amendment would expand the language to mandate that, "(except) in cases of military necessity, the Armed Forces shall accommodate the beliefs, actions, and speech" of service members.

Rep. John Fleming, R-La., sponsored the amendment in the House. The amendment also is being supported by military chaplains, many of whom have founded an alliance to inform service members of their religious liberty rights.

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Update (May 7): Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and North American Missions Board (NAMB) have released a statement on the recent rumor over court martials for military evangelism.

According to the three-page statement,

We reject any and all attempts to sensationalize or misrepresent situations, in this or any other context. Having said that, we are concerned. While rejecting any conspiracy theory linking the reports above, we believe there are in some of these cases elements that are indicative of a troubling lack of respect for true religious diversity in our military.

Similarly, LifeWay Research president Ed Stetzer writes on his blog that the false alarms and "anti-Christian conspiracy theories distract from real religious liberty concerns."

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The military is putting to rest any rumors that Christian service members could face court martial for sharing their faith.

According to the Tennessean, the Defense Department has clarified its position, saying that members of the military are free to evangelize, as long as they don't harass others.

"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)," Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman, told the newspaper by email.

The perceived, important difference between "evangelism" and "proselytization" has become a hot-button issue for the military this week, after a barrage of criticism erupted among conservatives.

Fox News reported that Pentagon officials had met with Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who is well known for his hyperbolic allegations against Christians and against religious influence in the military, prompting a back-and-forth exchange of views.

In response to Fox, the Pentagon released a statement on proselytization to Fox News. According to the statement, "Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense...Court martials and non-judicial punishments are decided on a case-by-case basis."

This led Breitbart News's Ken Kuklowsi to report that the Pentagon was "confirming that soldiers could be prosecuted for promoting their faith." Family Research Council, a conservative D.C.-based lobbying organization, also launched a petition to protect troops' religious freedom.

But according to the Defense Department, there is essentially no need. It won't be charging military chaplains or Christians with federal crimes under military law any time soon–as long as the evangelism doesn't interfere with military missions. The Tennessean reports that Christensen, the Pentagon spokesman, assured that:

... all service members are free to exercise their constitutional right to practice their religion in a manner that is respectful of other individuals' rights to follow their own belief systems; and in ways that are conducive to good order and discipline; and that do not detract from accomplishing the military mission.
Related Topics:Evangelism
Posted:May 4, 2013 at 10:24AM
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No Ban on Military Evangelism, Despite Conservative Fears