ENID, Okla. —
The Internet is a marvelous invention.
On it, you can do almost everything, from getting a college degree to watching baseball highlights, from opening a bank account to booking a hotel room, from viewing photos of impossibly cute kittens to downloading a tune from your favorite band, from writing a blog to purchasing a pair of Manolo Blahniks.
Of course, not everything on the Web is worth spending time on, and much of it is decidedly not family friendly, but in general, it has made life easier for many.
The big problem with the Internet is that much of the so-called “news” found there is simply not true.
Thus is the case with the recent posting claiming the Pentagon intends to court-martial service members who profess their Christian faith.
The story claims the Pentagon has bowed to the wishes of activist Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who reportedly warns of “incredibly well-funded gangs of fundamentalist Christian monsters,” and is tightening its restrictions on Christians who would dare to share their faith with others. Weinstein met with Pentagon officials late last month and discussed his concerns.
One report quotes someone from the conservative Family Research Council as saying Christians in the military who speak of their faith “could now be prosecuted as enemies of the state.”
Not true. The military has long had a policy of religious neutrality, endorsing no religion, but restricting none, either. Military members are free to practice and profess any religion, or none at all.
However, that doesn’t mean an airman, soldier, sailor, Marine or Coast Guardsman is free to impose his or her religion on a subordinate.
According to Air Force Instruction 1-1, the most recent version of which is dated last August, leaders “must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their own personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion.” Doing so, the instruction says, threatens to “degrade morale, good order, and discipline,” and “degrade the trust and confidence that the public has in the United States Air Force.”
“All airmen are able to choose to practice their particular religion, or subscribe to no religious belief at all. You should confidently practice your own beliefs while respecting others whose viewpoints differ from your own.”
Interestingly, Air Force members have more right to practice their chosen religion than they do to support their favorite political candidates.
Military members may attend partisan political rallies while not in uniform and not on duty, but they are prohibited from speaking at a partisan political rally, riding or marching in a partisan political parade or doing any fundraising for a political candidate, in or out of uniform.
Oh, and military members can’t have a political sign on their desks, or in their front yard, at least not if they live on base.
Vance Air Force Base has a chapel that provides both Protestant and Catholic worship services, as well as Muslim prayers in Arabic every Friday at noon.
All branches of the military have chaplains to minister to the troops.
The mission statement of the Air Force Chaplain Corps is to provide “spiritual care and the opportunity for airmen, their families and other authorized personnel to exercise their constitutional right to the free exercise of religion.”
The key words are “constitutional right.”
That means nobody is going to be court-martialed for professing Christianity, just for trying to force it on somebody of lower rank or for discriminating on the basis of religion.
“The Department of Defense 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 its policy) the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs,” Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen said in a written statement.
So how does this kind of stuff get started?
Somebody posts something, somebody else reads it and passes it along, and the next thing you know, it is all over Facebook and Twitter, spreading like wildfire.
This story originated with a column in the Washington Post, which touched on prostelyzing within the ranks of the military.
Prostelyzing falls under the mantle of not “promoting their own personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion.”
Nothing changed as a result of Weinstein’s visit. He has sparked no Department of Defense witch hunt against Christians.
The story was taken out of context and blown out of proportion.
Military members have the same rights as the rest of us to practice their religion and to share their faith, but they likewise have the right not to have religion of any kind forced upon them.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.