TOS Blog: Daily Commentary from an Objectivist Perspective

There Is No Right to Religious Proselytizing in U.S. Military

Todd Starnes of Fox News recently ignited a firestorm of controversy when he reported:

Religious liberty groups have grave concerns after they learned the Pentagon is vetting its guide on religious tolerance with a group [the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, or MRFF] that compared Christian evangelism to “rape” and advocated that military personnel who proselytize should be court martialed.

Also in the Fox article, the president of the Family Research Council commented on the recent Pentagon meeting with the MRFF, stating, “It threatens to treat service members caught witnessing as enemies of the state. Non-compliance, the Pentagon suggests, even from ordained chaplains could result in court-martialing on a case-by-case basis.”

Conservative media quickly seized on the story to criticize the Pentagon’s policy and to suggest that it was part of “an agenda to destroy any vestiges of Christianity in our military.”

However, Starnes failed to report important details of the story, and the claims of a deliberate Christian purge are patently unwarranted.

Had Starnes quoted the most relevant portion of the comments of Pentagon spokesperson Lieutenant Commander Nate Christensen, readers would have learned the following:

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. The Department does not endorse any one religion or religious organization, and provides free access of religion for all members of the military services.

The policies in question can be found in sections 2.11 and 2.12 of an official document of Air Force standards drafted last year, making them existing policy that the MRFF had no role in “vetting.” The document states:

Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for an individual’s free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. For example, they must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion. . . . 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.

As if that were not clear enough, the Pentagon released another statement in which it clarified the specific meaning of its ban on religious proselytization: “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).”

As part of the federal government, funded by taxpayers, the U.S. military is both morally and constitutionally correct to forbid religious proselytization and to discipline military personnel who violate this policy. As the Supreme Court emphasized in 1947, the establishment clause of the First Amendment means (among other things) that the government is forbidden to

prefer one religion to another. . . . In the words of [Thomas] Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect “a wall of separation between church and State.” . . . That wall must be kept high and impregnable.

Military personnel are both individual citizens and parts of the government. As individuals, they have a right to freedom of religion (or non-religion). As parts of the government, they have no right to push their religion on anyone. That is the policy of the U.S. military, and, in contrast to Starnes’s rabble-rousing report, it is fair and balanced.

By taking an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, all military service members are honor bound to uphold America’s “wall of separation between church and State”—not Christianity’s Great Commission. Any prospective service member who is unwilling to accept this legal and moral obligation is free to seek employment elsewhere.

Like this post? Join our mailing list to receive our weekly digest. And for in-depth commentary from an Objectivist perspective, subscribe to our quarterly journal, The Objective Standard.

Related:

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Posted in: Free Speech, Religion

Comments are welcome so long as they are civil.
  • Anonymous

    MRFF is an important organization attempting to preserve the separation of church and state in the U.S. military. This is a tough job because heavy inroads had been made before Michael Weinstein started the organization. It was later that he brought on board the indefatigable Chris Rodda.

    Two videos by MRFF:

    (link) U.S. Military being used as Government-Paid Missionaries

    (link) Mikey Weinstein Responds to David Barton calling him ‘Secretary of the Air Force’

    Chris Rodda is author of the book (link) Liars for Jesus which debunks the Christianized American history written by David Barton and others.

    Michael Weinstein also has a book about what’s going on in the military (which I haven’t read yet — I just found it) titled (amazon link) No Snowflake in an Avalanche

    (link) MRFF website

    I get updates on MRFF activities via an email newsletter.

  • Anonymous

    MRFF is an important organization attempting to preserve the separation of church and state in the U.S. military. This is a tough job because heavy inroads had been made before Michael Weinstein started the organization. It was later that he brought on board the indefatigable Chris Rodda.

    Two videos by MRFF:

    (link) U.S. Military being used as Government-Paid Missionaries

    (link) Mikey Weinstein Responds to David Barton calling him ‘Secretary of the Air Force’

    Chris Rodda is author of the book (link) Liars for Jesus which debunks the Christianized American history written by David Barton and others.

    Michael Weinstein also has a book about what’s going on in the military (which I haven’t read yet — I just found it) titled (amazon link) No Snowflake in an Avalanche

    (link) MRFF website

    I get updates on MRFF activities via an email newsletter.

  • John Gold

    I don’t think the separation of church and state is enshrined in the Constitution.

    In any event, I’d be reluctant to rely on the Kramnick and Moore book, which is quite flawed

    http://www.leaderu.com/common/godlessconstitution.html

  • Anonymous

    Does this all mean there should be a union of ch. & st. Ive not heard of the Kramnick & Moore books. Mike Kevitt

  • John Gold

    No, but people should be honest and admit that the Constitution doesn’t require a “wall of separation.” That phrase comes from Jefferson who wasn’t involved in the drafting of the first amendment (he was out of the country).

  • Anonymous

    “Wall of separation” is what the Constitution meant to Jefferson and Madison and what it means now to the Supreme Court; it’s one of the greatest political ideas ever thought of because it takes state coercion out of people’s basic philosophy.
    Jefferson’s “wall of separation” phrase is a metaphor which is well known to refer to 1st Amendment rights. That’s exactly how Jefferson used it in his very famous letter to the Danbury Baptists.In part:

    Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

    Jefferson couldn’t do anything to help Danbury Baptists, but his satisfaction came in 1817 when CT ended its theocratic habits.

    James Madison, who submitted the amendments that became the Bill of Rights, was more adamant about the separation than the nation is today. But then, what would one expect?

    Wilson: Early Presidents Not Religious From James Madison Quotations [about church and state]“The founders of our nation were nearly all Infidels, and that of the presidents who had thus far been elected [Washington; Adams; Jefferson; Madison; Monroe; Adams; Jackson] not a one had professed a belief in Christianity…. Among all our presidents from Washington downward, not one was a professor of religion, at least not of more than Unitarianism.”
    – The Reverend Doctor Bird Wilson, an Episcopal minister in Albany, New York, in a sermon preached in October, 1831; first sentence quoted in John E Remsbert, “Six Historic Americans,” second sentence quoted in Paul F Boller, George Washington & Religion, pp. 14-15

  • Anonymous

    You might find this collection of Madison quotes about the separation of church and state useful. Madison submitted the amendments that became the Bill of Rights. The religious right propaganda that the founders didn’t intend a separation of church and state is shown, through these quotes alone, to be ludicrous.

    The collection comes from the useful Positive Atheism website.

  • Anonymous

    What? West Point a religious institution? According to this Mar 13, 2013 YouTube video by Chris Rodda, author of (amazon link) Liars for Jesus, and a young atheist who had wanted to go to West Point, this was the view recently expressed by someone identified as a Republican strategist (I don’t know this person). There’s also a short discussion of some recent violations of separation–and something about a new prayer ritual at the 50yd line of the Army-Navy game.

    BTW, Chris Rodda works for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF).

  • John Gold

    The first amendment didn’t apply to the states, so states could and often did have state churches or semi established churches. CT and Mass had them until around 1830. So whatever the founders thought about the “separation of church and state” it was just as much as a wall between the federal government and the states’ freedom to handle religion as they saw fit.

    Actually many of the founders were quite orthodox in their religion, such as Roger Sherman and Benjamin Rush.

  • John Gold

    The founders intended a separation of church and the federal government.

    They intended a separation between the federal government and state establishment of religion.

    Thomas Jefferson was a state’s rights guy. He thought Connecticut should be prohibited from having Congregationalism as its state religion?

    It’s more complicated than what you are making it out to be.

  • Anonymous

    The 14th Amendment is what allowed the Bill of Rights to cover the whole country. It isn’t valid for any gov entity to violate rights, so States Rights used to do it was a serious failing all along. I’m not aware that Jefferson tried to do anything to stop theocracy in CT or that he thought the Feds should do something. The 14th didn’t happen until 1868; it’s unfortunate that it wasn’t in the Bill of Rights. In any case, it’s reasonable to conclude that the founders didn’t think it was ok that religion get its hands on the power of government.

  • Anonymous

    People that are religious can and do support the wall of separation. A major organization in the area is Americans United for Separation of Church and State whose current executive director is Rev. Barry W. Lynn, a United Church of Christ minister. Since there are few atheists around, it seems that, by far, the support for separation of church and state is coming from religious people. Even Chris Rodda’s book, Liars for Jesus, has a forward by a Rev.

    As I see it, the whole separation issue is about the attempt by the religious right to grab power in the U.S., and that’s one of the reasons why turning the military into God’s Army is very worrisome to me. The other is the role such a force could play in Xn eschatology.

  • Anonymous

    How about a copy of Atlas in every park cabin and lodge room in Georgia state parks? According to this Americans United article, the governor of Georgia seems to be saying that it would be just fine so long as the state doesn’t pay for them. He’s just ordered Gideon bibles returned to the rooms after a decision by the Georgia Attorney General that found no violation of church state separation. They had been removed awaiting a decision about a complaint coming from a citizen. The governor said, “In fact, any group is free to donate literature.”

    (Of course, I think most of you know what the fundamental solution to this problem is.)

  • Anonymous

    The 14th Amendment fixed the founders’ error.

  • John Gold

    It’s debatable whether the 14th amendment was meant to apply the Bill of Rights to the states. I’ve read pro and con and can’t make up my mind.

    But my point is straightforward: the founders did not believe in the separation of church and state as we understand that concept today.

    In addition, while some of the best known founders such as Madison, Jefferson and (perhaps) Washington may have been non-traditional in their religion, there were many founders who were such as John Witherspoon, Benjamin Rush and Roger Sherman.

    You might want to read Mark Hall’s recent Roger Sherman and the Creation of the American Republic, if you can afford it. He points out that few of the founders would have a agreed with the contemporary view of church/state issues.

  • John Gold

    I don’t know anyone who takes Barton seriously. I’m old school – I think you deal with the best arguments against your position, not the worst.

  • John Gold

    You write:

    ___

    Madison submitted the amendments that became the Bill of Rights. The religious right propaganda that the founders didn’t intend a separation
    of church and state is shown, through these quotes alone, to be ludicrous.
    __

    But you have to show that Madison’s views were mainstream. I read that Madison wanted the first amendment applied to the states, which was rejected.

  • Anonymous

    Glen Beck takes David Barton seriously–seriously enough to give him time as a recurring guest historian on his Fox TV show (now ended, I believe). His many books almost always have 4 to 5 stars at amazon. Chris Rodda writes in the introduction to her book: “My first step was to read a few of the most popular religious right history books and compile a list of all the lies.” Suggestions led to more books and these led to more books. That’s how she found Barton and others (such as William Federer & Tim LaHaye.) At amazon, his bio says: “Barton was named by Time magazine as one of America’s 25 most influential evangelicals, and he has received numerous national and international awards, including Who’s Who in Education and Daughters of the American Revolution’s highest award, the Medal of Honor.” Somebody is taking him seriously.

    Barton is very effective; most people wouldn’t know what was referred to when he claims that Jefferson went even more religious than others when signing documents with “In the year of our lord, Jesus Christ.” Not many would know what was in the letter sent to Jefferson by the Danbury Baptists. Who knows about the Aitken bible or whether or not it was printed by Congress and had an official Congressional document saying that it was “a neat edition of the Holy Scriptures for the use of our schools.”

    So, please let me know who has the best argument for putting government power in the hands of religion–and which religion is true so that we don’t make a huge error on that point.

  • Anonymous

    I will check into the story that Madison wanted the Bill of Rights extended, at that time, to the states. Another point of interest is what was in the newly written state constitutions. CT and Rhode Island saw no need to write new constitutions prior to the declaration of independence. Anyway, the founders could have used other nations as models for a Christian nation, but they didn’t create a one. The constitution doesn’t have a clerical branch, the Supreme Court isn’t given the task of applying the Bible to its decisions, and there’s no religious test for office. I don’t see any rule by religion in this–instead, it looks quite secular. No Mike Huckabee here.

  • Anonymous

    That Jefferson et al were non-traditional in their religion, so far as the current religious right gripe is concerned, simply evades the fact that they weren’t Xn.

    As I’ve seen it, the argument is about separation at any level of any government–especially federal. Considering comments by Jefferson and Madison (who submitted the amendments), it’s easy to believe they would have loved the use of the 14 Amendment to take away the power of states to gut the Bill of Rights. Letting states become little tyrannies would be quite the opposite of supporting “inalienable rights” or securing the “blessings of liberty.” If Roger Sherman would not have approved applying the Bill of Rights to the states or didn’t agree with the separation of church and state, he has lost the argument.

    Jefferson et al would have argued for the wall of separation in any state regardless of what they thought about federal power. They would not be supporters of the religious right at any level of government. They would not have sanctioned for the states what they didn’t sanction for the federal gov. Jefferson agreeing with Glen Beck and his pal David Barton? I don’t think so.

    Although obvious to Objectivists, I had thought of making a comment about the lack of fundamental relevance of the founders’ opinions. The wall of separation is a sound principle even if the U.S. had been founded like Iran. Defending it or opposing it depends on a theory of government. Even if the founders had hated the idea, that would not prove it wrong, and the same the other way. The Objectivist position is nicely stated at an auxiliary website to ARI–Principles of a Free Society: Separation of Church and State where it’s seen as an application of intellectual freedom.

  • John Gold

    I’m sure there are plenty of people who take him seriously; my point is that better informed Christians don’t. I’d like to think they consider writer like Mark Hall and Dan Driesbach more competent and balanced on the role of religion in the founding of the nation.

    http://www.heritage.org/research/lecture/2011/06/did-america-have-a-christian-founding

  • John Gold

    If the founders believed that states should prohibited from establishing or supporting religion then it’s odd that they didn’t submit a first amendment containing such a provision. Either they didn’t believe that or they thought it wouldn’t pass.

    It’s hard to take people 250 years ago and transport them to the present and say “they wouldn’t have agreed with the religious right.” Take prayer in school. There weren’t many government run schools so the issue wouldn’t have come up. But my guess is that they would have thought that whether the government schools in Peoria have prayer is to be left to its citizens.

  • Anonymous

    You can sign up for the MRFF’s email newsletter here. The archive of monthly newsletters is here.

  • Bruce Livingston

    Define proselytizing? If you’re saying that a soldier can’t tell you he enjoys his religion, that sounds like censorship to me. If he, however, pushes it on you, or uses scare tactics, etc, that sounds more a harassment problem than a religious freedom problem. You could solve this by looking at the door to door jehovah witnesses, if they come to your door, and you say “Not interested” they leave, if you say “not interested” and they stick their foot in the door, you have a probelm.

  • Anonymous

    bOCX – Recently i used to be lacking in money and debts were eating me from everywhere. that was Until I found out how to make money on the Internet. I went to surveymoneymaker point net, and started filling in surveys for straight cash, and surely I’ve been really more able to get around financialy! I’m so glad that i did this!!! With all the financial stress these years, I really hope all of you will give it a chance. – vHaN