Freedom of religion is one of the most fundamental rights that Americans possess. Freedom religion is not only mentioned in the Bill of Rights, but it is included in the very first of these rights. The founding fathers recognized this as very important to the American people because many colonists had come to the New World to escape religious persecution in Europe. In America, the attitude is moving more from an attitude of acceptance to one of mere tolerance and even disdain in some cases. The public and some leaders are denying many their constitutionally guaranteed right to free exercise of religion. The military is one arena where these rights are being denied quite often. The American military is becoming increasingly hostile toward expression of religious beliefs, especially Christianity. The hostilities continue even though the Constitution protects freedom of expression, and the courts have reaffirmed that servicemen and women may freely express their religious beliefs without fear of adverse effects on their careers.Order now
Much of the controversy over religious freedom in the military rests in the question of whether or not allowing religion in the military is an “establishment” of religion which violates the First Amendment. The official stance of the DoD on religion in the military is “the DoD places a high value on the rights of members of the Military Services to observe the tenets of their respective religions or to observe no religion at all” (Dominguez 2). It also states that worship practices, holy days, and other religious observances “will be accommodated to the extent possible consistent with mission accomplishment” (Dominguez 8). The Supreme Court ruled in Marsh v. Chambers that prayer opening sessions in congress is not an “establishment of religion,” but rather it is a tolerable acknowledgement of beliefs which are widely held in the United States. This case may be further applied to all military ceremonies. A prayer said before a ceremony or official event does not violate the First Amendment because those who disagree are not participating in the activity or being pressured to adopt the beliefs of the one who is praying (Prayer and Religion in the Military).
Many argue that having chaplains in the military is an “establishment” of religion. Chaplains, however, do not violate the First Amendment as man claim. They actually do quite the opposite. Chaplains fulfill the “free-exercise clause” of the First Amendment by allowing servicemen overseas to have a means of practicing their religion in an area that, in some cases is very hostile to other religions. The Military goes to great lengths to accommodate the religious beliefs of these men and women by providing them with chaplains to give them spiritual guidance (Eisgruber & Sager 240). It also provides service members someone to turn to for counsel. Some argue that a chaplain praying “in Jesus’ name” is considered proselytization, but if the chaplain’s beliefs require him to pray in this manner, it is considered acceptable. Prayer is not an “establishment” of religion. The first Congress, who wrote the First Amendment established clergy-led prayer at the presidential inauguration (which military promotion ceremonies are modeled after) (Prayer and Religion in the Military). Religion is something held very dear to many in the armed forces, as the saying goes, “there are no atheists in foxholes.” Religion is a vital part not only in the lives of civilians, but also to those in the armed forces. To take free exercise of religion away from those in the military would be like taking a dolly away from a deliveryman. It is still possible to get the job done, but it would be much more difficult. For some in the military, it would likely be impossible without being able to turn to a chaplain, discuss the faith with believers, or share it with unbelievers.
Recently, a cadet at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs wrote Galatians 2:20 on a whiteboard outside his room which is reserved for his personal use (Hamilton). The verse states: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (NKJV). This verse is merely a statement of what he believes. It is not a verse that is controversial, but rather just a simple “statement of faith.” Mikey Weinstein, Director of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation contacted the Air Force Academy regarding this verse, claiming that the verse created a hostile environment. Exactly two hours and nine minutes later, the cadet who wrote the verse on the whiteboard erased it under the direction of a lieutenant. Since this event, there has been great outrage over this situation, both publically and in the military (Hamilton). In response to this event, more than a dozen cadets wrote Bible verses on their own whiteboards in protest. Academy officials also stated that it would not have mattered if the cadet had removed the Bible verse voluntarily because he would have likely been ordered to remove it or have it removed for him if he had not done so when originally commanded.
When faced with DoD Instruction 1300.17, Academy officials stated that “religious expression” in this instruction does not include religious speech, only grooming and apparel (Air Force Academy Message). This is not only a poor interpretation of the regulation, but it also blatantly disregards the First Amendment. It has been clearly stated in the past that servicemen may promote their faith to peers but not to subordinates. At the Air Force Academy, some cadets may be in leadership positions, but the relationship here is different from that of a commander and a subordinate. The only situation in that it is permissible to restrict religious speech among peers is when the speech causes disruption or a danger to the unit. In this situation, the only one ever mentioned that had a complaint was Mikey Weinstein, who would never even have contact with this cadet and the Bible verse on his door. Even if a cadet had been offended, there is no reason for the situation to become hostile and go beyond a simple disagreement about religious beliefs. This entire situation violates the First Amendment and displays a blatant disregard for the rules set in place by authority in DoD Instruction 1300.17. It shows a weakness on the part of officials at the Academy to stand for what is the law and an inability to resist social and political pressures.
Senior Master Sergeant Phillip Monk is a devout evangelical Christian and 19 year veteran of the Air Force. He was serving as a First Sergeant at Lackland Air Force Base in early 2013 after returning from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. When he reported to his job, he realized that he had a new commander who was openly lesbian. As the ranking sergeant under her command, he had more contact with her than most of the other personnel under her jurisdiction. He was told to advise her about a situation where an instructor was making “objectionable comments about same-sex marriage” (Liberty Institute Defends) when talking to recruits. When SMSGT Monk presented to his report to the commander, he found that this instructor meant no harm, and Monk suggested that the situation be used as an example of tolerance of others’ religious beliefs and opinions. Monk’s commander rejected this. She told Monk that they were not on the same page and that, “if he didn’t get on the same page, they would find another place for him to work” (Liberty Institute Defends). The commander then proceeded to point-blank ask him whether or not those who object to gay marriage are discriminating. Monk responded to her question by saying, “I cannot answer your questions based on my convictions” (Liberty Institute Defends).
He told the Air Force Times that, “I was relieved of my position because I do not agree with my commander’s position on gay marriage” (Maze). Within hours, then First Sergeant Monk was relieved of his duties and told that he was “no longer allowed to be physically present” (Liberty Institute Defends) in the buildings he had previously served in. Monk was due for a reassignment anyway, but being removed from a leadership position so abruptly could hurt his chances of receiving a Meritorious Service Medal which he was recommended by his previous commander (Liberty Institute Defends). He told the Air Force times that the possibility of not receiving the award and being removed from a leadership position abruptly could “send a message to whomever is reviewing” his military records (Maze). Since the time of this interview, the idea has come to fruition that Monk could possibly face a court martial by making “false claims” of discrimination publicly.
These charges were eventually dropped and SMSgt Monk received the Meritorious Service Medal for his “outstanding contributions while serving with the 326th Training Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base” (U.S. Air Force Awards). This situation is a blatantly obvious example of a commander wielding her power carelessly in order to promote her own beliefs, which is a direct violation of military policy. The military holds that a service member may promote their beliefs to peers but may not pressure those beneath them to adopt the same beliefs or even notify their subordinates of their beliefs except as an introduction. SMSgt was well within his rights to inform his commander of his religious beliefs because, included in the religious rights of service members is the right to discuss and share beliefs with an adherent and non-adherent (Prayer and Religion in the Military). In this situation, the commander was greatly out of line and exhibited poor conduct, conduct that should not in any case be associated with a service member. SMSgt Monk was within his rights guaranteed to him by the DoD. The military in and of itself is becoming more accepting of all religions. The opinions of those in the military, however, are becoming less tolerant of those who hold different beliefs, specifically Christians.
These situations are situations where, the official government regulations have been violated. The government, surprisingly, has become more tolerant of religion and has maintained that service members have the same religious freedoms as civilians except in cases when a commander is promoting religious beliefs to a subordinate or the expression of these beliefs causes a hostile environment. Chaplains are a key part of the military and allow service members to freely exercise their religion in situations that, otherwise, would be impossible. The DoD holds that service members have the right to share religious beliefs among peers but not to subordinates (Benjamin 18). In all cases discussed, this standard has not been violated, but rather commanders and those in authority have caved to pressures and made decisions based on their own beliefs instead of the regulations governing the appropriate course of action in these situations. The attitude of those in the military is becoming less tolerant of those of differing religious beliefs, specifically Christians. The DoD has enacted regulations to protect the religious freedoms of service members, but the level of tolerance among those who disagree with the religious beliefs of some still remains the same. Many of those who settled in America did so in order to gain religious freedom. Freedom of religion is still one of the most valued and basic freedoms that Americans possess, and to restrict or even abolish this right would be a complete departure from the original intent of the framers of the American government and the Constitution.
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Dominguez, Michael. DoD Instruction 1300.17. Defense Technical Information Center. Department of Defense, 10 Feb. 2009. Web. PDF File. 8 April 2014. .
Eisgruber, Christopher L., Lawrence G. Sager. Religious Freedom and the Constitution. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007. Print.
Hamilton, Deborah. AFA Press Release – Air Force Academy Removes Bible Verse from Board Outside Cadet’s Room. American Family Association. N.p. 13 March 2014. Web. 8 April 2014. .
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Maze, Rick. AF sgt. claims he was fired for religious views on gays. Air Force Times. Gannett. 16 August 2013. Web. 8 April 2013. .
The Holy Bible, New King James Version (NKJV). Nashville: Thomas Nelson, inc., 1982. Print.
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Update on Developing Situation at U.S. Air Force Academy. Liberty Institute. Liberty Institute. 13 March 2014. Web. 3 May 2014. < http://blog.libertyinstitute.org/2014/03>.
U.S. Air Force Awards Senior Master Sergeant Phillip Monk Prestigious Decoration Despite Religious Discrimination Claim. Liberty Institute. Liberty Institute. 18 February 2014. Web. 3 May 2014. .