Christians in the military are allowed to discuss their faith, a Defense Department official said in a statement contradicting reports that such behavior could lead to court-martial.
“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 wrote in an email to the Marine Corps Times.
(Get Religion’s Mollie Hemingway points out that “to evangelize” and “to proselytize” both mean that someone is trying to “convert” someone else to a religion. “Why is the explicitly Christian term for proselytism — evangelism — OK but the generic term for conversion attempts — proselytism — not?” Hemingway asked in a post today.)
Christensen told Fox News earlier this week that “religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense,” adding that “court martials and non-judicial punishments are decided on a case-by-case basis and it would be inappropriate to speculate on the outcome in specific cases.”
That statement — in conjunction with news that Pentagon brass had discussed their religious freedom policy with atheist activist Mikey Weinstein, who told Fox News that soldiers “are being spiritually raped by fundamentalist Christian religious predators” — gave rise to fears that the military would prevent soldiers and chaplains from discussing their beliefs with colleagues.
“Saying that a service member cannot speak of his faith is like telling a service member he cannot talk about his spouse or children,” Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, told Fox. “I do not think the Air Force wants to ban personnel from protected religious speech, and I certainly hope that it is willing to listen to the numerous individuals and groups who protect military religious liberty without demonizing service members.”
The Defense Department distanced itself from Weinstein in a statement today. “Mr. Weinstein is not part of any DOD advisory group or committee, nor is he a consultant to the Defense Department regarding religious matters,” Christensen said. “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.”
Christensen also noted that “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.”