Another article claiming the army is persecuting Christians.

An editorial posted yesterday on The Washington Times’ website claims that Christians are being discriminated against in the military. The author quotes information recently posted by Family Research Council.

A strange claim, since I have often heard from atheists I know who have served that Christianity has undue support there and have told me stories of discrimination they and others have faced for their lack of faith, not the other way around as FRC claims.

I know I run a relatively unknown blog in my little corner of the internet. (promote me if you like my stuff) Yet, despite this I strive to be critical in my writing. I try to research claims I make, reference article I have read and generally be as accurate as I can given the amount of time I have to research. All of this is precisely why it bothers me so much when I run across articles like this. The article is poorly researched (he clearly did not read anything but the FRC piece) tripe that should never have seen the light of day on a major news outlet, even as an editorial, yet is was published on The Washington Times.

He starts out with the claim “There are no atheists in foxholes” which anyone could find out is untrue if they did a simple Google search. The first link I ran across was a link to an article from the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers the article entitled Atheists in Foxholes, in Cockpits, and on Ships talks specifically about the falsehood of this very claim. The author is not off to a good start, but lets look at the rest.

He says that the FRC’s article points out more than three dozen examples of “pressures to impose a secular, anti-religious culture on our nation’s military services;” So let’s look at a few of these claims. He brings up three in the article.

An Army master sergeant was punished for serving sandwiches from Chick-fil-A at his own promotion party. Because the owners of Chick-fil-A are outspoken in support of traditional marriage, the sergeant was “investigated, reprimanded, threatened with judicial action, and given a bad efficiency report.”

Hmm. well this seems suspicious. Did the military really reprimand a master sergeant for serving chicken sandwiches?  It turns out there is an article on The Washington Times site about this very situation that tells a slightly different story.

It seems that the Master Sargent has just been promoted and decided to throw a party for his promotion AND his support of DOMA. He was, in fact, serving Chick-fil-A specifically to let people know he supported DOMA. His invitation even stated “In honor of my promotion and in honor of the Defense of Marriage Act, I’m serving Chick-fil-A sandwiches at my promotion party.”

Now, ignoring the fact that serving crappy fast food at your promotion party makes you a crappy host there are two problems I see with this. One, people serving in the military are actually limited in there ability to speak on political issues, particularly partisan ones. A law that is in place to prevent military coups. In fact, the article I link to specifically mentions attending dinners and parties meant to support partisan political causes in their official capacity as an officer. So his decision to link the two things could not only have put him in hot water but potentially put any other service man who attended at the same risk. So it was poorly advised.

Secondly, as of September 2011 when DADT was repealed homosexuals are now able to openly serve in the military, so there is a reasonable chance that there were men and women serving under him who are gay. These people would probably then be expected to attend and party celebrating a law which is expressly designed to limit their civil rights, while also feeling that many of the other people attending supported it as well. Therefore, his actions could reasonably deemed to cause problems with unit cohesion. These are not minor problem, so it is not surprising that he was reprimanded and giving a bad efficiency report.

Click for full sizeA painting depicting a policeman with a Scripture citation and the image of a cross was removed from the dining hall of an Air Force base in Idaho an hour after a single enlisted man complained.

When I actually looked this one up is was far worse than I had imagined. The picture, posted on the right (click photo for full size), features a military officer standing in front of another figure who looks very much like a crusader. The fact that it features a bible passage that speaks about peacemakers does little to offset the creepy undertones in this picture so it is not surprising at all that someone complained. I likely would have complained about this even when I was a Christian. The crusades are a period of history that most Christians should rightly want to distance themselves from. I’m actually not sure what they were thinking when they put it up in the first place.

An Air Force officer was told to he couldn’t keep a Bible in his desk. Fox News reported that his superiors were concerned that it would “appear that he was condoning a particular religion.” Airmen could express their beliefs only as long as it didn’t “make others uncomfortable.”

This one might be the only one I might slightly agree with, it really depends on context. If the officer did nothing but have a bible on his desk then this may have gone a bit overboard. However, in many cases once you know the whole story it turns out there was a lot more going on. This man was an officer, meaning men were under his command and it is quite possible he was subtlety or even overtly using his position of authority to evangelize to those he commanded. It is a reasonable assumption given the Christian belief in a command to convert unbelievers. Understand, I’m not actually bothered by evangelism per se. I support free exchanges of ideas, you are free to convince me god exists as I am free to convince you he probably doesn’t. However, for that to happen everyone in the exchange needs to be on equal social footing. You don’t have that when the person trying to convert you is your boss. I even found an article speaking about this where U.S. Congressmen (Louie Gohmert R-TX) took issue saying:

Under President Obama’s military you are no longer allowed to share your faith…Do you follow President Obama or do you follow God and the teachings of Jesus?

If even a congressmen can’t understand the need to be circumspect about how you promote your religious beliefs to subornments then it may well be reasonable for the DOD to take a hardline against any semblance of religious proselytizing.

Of course if you go to the source material from FRC you find even more bizarre complaints. They don’t explain why but they apparently strongly object to a DOD statement from May which they quote.

The U.S. 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).

I’m left scratching my head as to how they take the notion that they are not allowed to “force unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others” as discrimination against them. If the FRC really thinks that asking that they not be intrusive and rude in their attempts to convert people is a violation of their civil rights that says more about them than they realize and it isn’t good.

The article gets even more ridiculous from there. It talks about O’Hair removing prayers from school, even though that was not at all what happened. Teacher led prayers were removed, as they should be for the exact same reasons an army commander shouldn’t be forcing religion on people under their command. Of course the author thinks he knows that this is not what the founders of the country wanted, even though he demonstrably does not, and that really shouldn’t be our standard for governance anyway.

The author ends trying to defend an amendment to the NDAA that seems designed to restore the special privilege to force everyone else to put up with invasive evangelism that Christians apparently think they should have in the armed forces. The bill changes a few words in the NDAA which basically attempts to allow any kinds of religious actions or speech as long as it does not “actually harm” anyone. 

I think this correctly sums up the problem with the bill.

The Administration strongly objects to section 530, which would require the Armed Forces to accommodate, except in cases of military necessity, “actions and speech” reflecting the “conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of the member.” 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.

There are quite a few atheists in foxholes already, we aren’t lonely, those that serve just demand the same respect for serving in the military that everyone else gets, and articles like this being posted on a major new site are an offense to every single atheist who has served and even given their lives in defense of this country. If The Washington Times had any sense they would pull this article and issue a public apology for allowing such offensive and demonstrably inaccurate claims too grace their pages. I won’t hold my breath though.

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