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Military Officials Tell Congress Faith Can be Expressed Unless It’s in a ‘Suppressing Sort of Way’

"When we find ourselves offending others by the use of sectarian prayers, that has a significant negative impact upon good order, discipline, and unit cohesion," former chaplain testifies.

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Bridget Johnson

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January 30, 2014 - 7:20 pm
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WASHINGTON — A House Armed Services subcommittee hearing Wednesday attracted a line of Republicans not on the committee who hoped to get a shot at querying Defense Department officials about the “fine line between accommodating and respecting all religions and restricting religious freedom,” in the words of Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio).

Military officials, though, answered concerns that Christians were being discriminated against by stressing that the department only keeps an eye out for religious “coercion” or words and actions that affect unit morale.

“Historically, the armed services have supported religious freedom and, when possible, accommodated service members’ religious beliefs and practices. I believe we can maintain a proper balance between religious accommodations which will promote military readiness, unit cohesion and good order and discipline,” said Military Personnel subcommittee Chairman Joe Wilson (R-S.C.). “This should not present challenges to the military services.”

“Military chaplains must provide spiritual care for all those who serve in the military, most of which may not share their particular faith or religious beliefs,” Ranking Member Susan Davis (D-Calif.) said. “This challenge has often created the perception that the Department of Defense or the services are prohibiting chaplains and service members from practicing the tenets of their faith.”

“Often in these discussions, what is lost is a recognition that a military chaplain’s responsibility is not just to his or her tenets of their faith and those that follow that specific faith,” she added. “…Our armed forces is a reflection of our country, our country which is comprised of individuals from all walks of religious beliefs to those who have no belief in a specific religion, including atheists and free-thinkers.”

Virginia Penrod, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for military personnel policy, said that in response to concerns from members of Congress about religious freedom she conducted teleconferences with more than 30 chaplains.

“I asked if they’re allowed to preach or practice according to the tenants of their faith. Their response was an overwhelming yes,” Penrod said. “They felt they were given the support they needed from command. When asked if they were forced to perform ceremonies that went against their faith, 100 percent said no.”

The Right Rev. James Magness, Bishop Suffragan for Federal Ministries of the Episcopal Church and a retired Navy chaplain, testified that he’d once read from his prayer book at a retirement ceremony for a Navy captain, ending with the phrase “through Jesus Christ our Lord,” only to find out afterward that the captain was Jewish.

“It didn’t take me long to realize that I had just excluded and offended the honoree and all the members of his family by offering an inappropriate prayer,” Magness said. “I learned that when in uniform, my responsibility is to care for all of those who are present, not just those of my own faith tradition, for all people, Christian, Jew, Muslim, non-theist, straight, gay or lesbian, all people.”

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) mused about what would have happened if the people who approached Magness “said ‘Well, we’re atheist, and we’re offended by any prayer,’ would that have motivated you to say, ‘Well, we won’t pray at all’?”

Under questioning from Davis, the officials said they weren’t aware of “complaints by service members who were subject to inappropriate proselytizing by other service members or by military chaplains.”

Magness, though, said he believes that “when we find ourselves offending others by the use of sectarian prayers, that has a significant negative impact upon good order, discipline, and unit cohesion.”

Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) noted that “it seems that in the military, people of my faith can get reprimanded for a statement as simple as one saying that my priorities in life are a commitment to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, a commitment to my family, and a commitment to my country, in that order.”

“I’m aware of a colonel that got reprimanded in a change of command for saying that on stage. He didn’t say that anybody in the crowd had to believe as he did, or share his priorities,” Scott said. “And my question is, can you give me any example of a person of a faith, other than a Christian faith, where they were reprimanded for a statement that was that simple?”

“I cannot give you an example of anyone that was reprimanded for expressing their religious belief, because along — to the right to free speech, we become concerned in the department if an individual is coercing any other individual or impacting unit cohesion,” Penrod replied.

“So as long as the person of authority, as long as it’s clear that what he is saying is personal and not official, not an expectation, he’s free to practice his faith and speak of his faith,” said Brig. Gen. Bobby Page, deputy chief chaplain of the Air Force.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) noted “current DOD policy states that service members can share their faith, or evangelize, but must not force unwanted intrusive attempts to convert others of any faith, or no faith, to one’s beliefs.”

“My question is, who makes the determination of the relative comfort of others?” he asked. “And what’s the practical application of that policy?”

Army Deputy Chief of Chaplains Brig. Gen. Charles Bailey said “that’s something that’s worked out between the individuals.”

“If an individual says, ‘Thanks, I’m not interested,’ that’s an appropriate time for the other person to step back,” Bailey added.
Bailey said things deemed inappropriate would include “a statement that would indicate that their religious beliefs are better, or more — have more importance than another belief system, and how they would phrase something like that, and state that in some sort of way, that their God, or their higher being that they call, would be something that is the supreme over anything else, or maybe that would suppress another individual to think that they are not less in their faith. That would be a wrong statement to make in that sense.”

It’s “perfectly OK for that individual to state what they believe openly, understanding who’s around the area.”

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Top Rated Comments   
Duffelblog has this this situation pegged: Marines Convert To Norse Paganism, Demand Horns And Wings On Helmets

Read more: http://www.duffelblog.com/2014/01/marines-religious-freedom/#ixzz2rwyg5rhQ

Semper Fi :-)
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Of course, if a Muslim wants to express his religion by shouting Allah Akbar! while going on a murder spree on a U.S. Army base, well, that's OK because of diversity and all.

In Afcrapistan the U.S. Army burns Bibles on U.S. bases and handles Korans with white gloves throughout.

The U.S. Army has no credibility whatsoever on this matter - none!
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (20)
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The troops are dying for what? To serve jew wars for Israel. Their faith is having faith for their Jew god. That's how that buybull is invented by this disgusting book known as the talmud!
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
TL;DR version: "Waaah! We're not totally dominant, so we're being oppressed!"
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
I can't think of anything more stupid than this group of nosy idiots to try to gang up on the military and coerce the services into making sure evangelical Christians don't have any problems while they vote to interfere in everybody else's sex lives and other personal issues. These folks are no better thugs than those who did the bidding of conductors of the Inquisition. I hate to call Members of Congress liars, but all this group came with, as is almost always the case with these folks, is a lot of complaint about poor treatment of their kind and the need for improved treatment because they can't act superior to other religions, but offered nothing more than hearsay. The responses from the military officials had specific example that could be verified.

That's the way these folks work. Have a hearing and either stack the witness list or just start throwing out accusations and charges whether there is any foundation for them or not. It's definitely a group of people trying to push others around and I have no use for their attitude.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Rep. Susan Davis comes from a military family. Her husband was a doctor in the air force during the Vietnam War.

When there is a chaplain that is not my denomination, there is not a problem I have never seen this be a problem. So I see Rep Davis's remarks being a strawman. Have there been numerous concerns that if a person is Roman Catholic, a protestant minister will do something wrong? Or vice versa. I don't think it would be a problem of the chaplain was a rabbi either. Not that I have head. So why did she bring it up?

Her remarks were made to give the Democrats cover. She comes across as a concern troll. She is disgraceful.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Since the DoD has gone corporate, with diversity officers and sensitivity training, I despair that the effectiveness of the armed forces in combat has been preserved. After all, 'workplace violence' was once the raison d'etre for a military force.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
24 years in the AF and I don't recall any non-Christians protesting about getting Christmas off.

That tells me the system works just fine.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
A quibble with the writer (or the people she's quoting, I guess). "his or her tenants of their faith" It's "tenets" not "tenants"!
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
In the ten years I served I can only remember one complaint about a problem with someones religious preference. One of our guys wanted it entered into his record book that his religion was the Worship of the Sun God Ra. The only reason he wanted it was he had been given a hard time about wearing a peace symbol Ankh on his dogtag chain but by claiming it as his religion he could continue wearing it. The Company Clerk laughed at him but it was duly noted in his SRB and he got his way. Other than that nobody paid much of any attention to what religion anyone claimed. Never did anyone try to force their beliefs on any one else.

The only other thing I can remember of a religious nature was a friend married to a Japanese girl. They had a sign on their front door, half in English half in Japanese. Part said we are Buddhist the other said we are Christian. They had been having a bunch of people coming by trying to convert them from both sides. Once the sign went up they weren't bothered again.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Given how religion operates in Japan, this is not far-fetched.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Your last story is hilarious.

Devious, but I can appreciate it. Same family make up except for the Japanese part.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
“This challenge has often created the perception that the Department of Defense or the services are prohibiting chaplains and service members from practicing the tenants of their faith.”

What the H-E-double hockey sticks is a tenant of a faith? The word is 'tenet', not a renter of faith.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
They worry about religious coercion, but they will not worry about homosexual coercion from a 35 year old gay sergeant commanding 18 year old recruits. Why is it just coercion from Christians they worry about. Jews have been in the USMC for over 100 years and they have never complained. It is the only now that ethnic warlords resist assimilation because it will affect their power base.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Howdy Sunset
The military has long punished sexual relationships within a chain of command under the fraternization articles. Whether gay or straight, a superior is prohibited from having personal relationships with subordinates, with emphasis on sexual relationships.
Until very recently, this hasn't been tested with regard to homosexual misconduct because homosexual conduct was an automatic discharge situation. I am sure that there will be NCOs and officers who misuse their positions to extort sexual favors -- or who allow a subordinate to compromise them on that basis -- and who will be homosexual. It should be handled according to established policy.
When I was first in the USAF, I was a Universalist. As a Theist but not a Christian, I was sometimes bothered by sectarian prayers. Never bothered me enough to make an issue of it.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
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