No, the DoD will not court martial Christians (or Zoroastrians, Sikhs, Buddhists or Spaghetti Monster adherents.)
OK, so a few things up front, because I know the comments will end up bashing me on this one.
1) I’m friends with Todd Starnes of Fox Radio on Facebook, and I usually very much enjoy his stuff.
2) I used to write at “Big Peace” over on Breitbart.com
3) If Mikey Weinstein told me water was wet, I would immediately assume the opposite, and not likely change my opinion unless I had peer-reviewed scientific evidence to the contrary.
4) I go to church every week and bible study every other week (when not on travel).
Now, with those caveats out of the way, this whole issue with the DoD (specifically the Air Force) getting ready to court martial Christians is hyperbolic and not very accurate.
First there was the Breitbart piece written by Ken Klukowski titled: “Pentagon May Court Martial Soldiers Who Share Christian Faith”
The Pentagon has released a statement confirming that soldiers could be prosecuted for promoting their faith: "Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense...Court martials and non-judicial punishments are decided on a case-by-case basis...”.
This regulation would severely limit expressions of faith in the military, even on a one-to-one basis between close friends. It could also effectively abolish the position of chaplain in the military, as it would not allow chaplains (or any service members, for that matter), to say anything about their faith that others say led them to think they were being encouraged to make faith part of their life. It’s difficult to imagine how a member of the clergy could give spiritual counseling without saying anything that might be perceived in that fashion.
Notice first the difference between the title (“share Christian Faith”) and what the quote from the DoD actually said (“Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense”). There is a difference between a simple sharing of your faith, and proselytization. And within the definition of the actual policy, the proselytization portion is exclusively directed at doing so to subordinates.
Now, I’ll get to the ACTUAL regulation in a minute, but from the Starnes FoxNews article:
Religious liberty groups have grave concerns after they learned the Pentagon is vetting its guide on religious tolerance with a group that compared Christian evangelism to “rape” and advocated that military personnel who proselytize should be court martialed.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is calling on the Air Force to enforce a regulation that they believe calls for the court martial of any service member caught proselytizing.
President Mikey Weinstein and others from his organization met privately with Pentagon officials on April 23. He said U.S. troops who proselytize are guilty of sedition and treason and should be punished – by the hundreds if necessary – to stave off what he called a “tidal wave of fundamentalists.”
Now, I agree entirely with parts of this. Mikey Weinstein could charitably be said to be a very vocal Anti-Christian zealot. (We’ve discussed him here before a few times.) Like I said, that is being charitable, as this is what Weinstein thinks of Christianity:
If these fundamentalist Christian monsters of human degradation … and tyranny cannot broker or barter your acceptance of their putrid theology, then they crave for your universal silence in the face of their rapacious reign of theocratic terror. Indeed, they ceaselessly lust, ache, and pine for you to do absolutely nothing to thwart their oppression. Comply, my friends, and you become as monstrously savage as are they. I beg you, do not feed these hideous monsters with your stoic lethargy, callousness and neutrality. Do not lubricate the path of their racism, bigotry, and prejudice. Doing so directly threatens the national security of our beautiful nation.
Nonetheless, before we get too excited about fears about Christian Gulags full of Air Force and other military personnel, let’s look at the ACTUAL POLICY:
Note the highlighted portions. The first part talks about what leaders cannot do (use position to promote a religion, extend preferential treatment) and the second is a restatement of Constitutional guarantees to free exercise. Basically this policy just restates the Constitution. In essence, all the policy is saying is that you can’t use your position of authority to try to convert your subordinates to a specific ideology. My friend DrewM set the right tone with his piece on this:
It doesn’t say people can’t practice their religion or talk about it with fellow members of the service. It just says leaders can’t use their official positions of authority to promote their religious beliefs to their troops. Military leaders have tremendous power over their subordinates, it’s not irrational to ensure that for the good of the service this authority isn’t abused for private ends.
Put another way, let me ask this hypothetical. If Major Nidal Hasan (Ft Hood Shooter) had called everyone he worked with under Major (enlisted, NCO’s, Captains, LT’s etc) together and talked to them about why they should become Muslim, I would think everyone would rightly freak out. Also, if a Battalion Commander were to call everyone in his command together before an election and say “Vote (Democrat/Republican) because only (Democrats/Republicans) really care about the military and veterans” it would be unlawful exertion of authority. That is all this policy is saying.
Now, as I said before, I don’t see how Weinstein should be the only one meeting with the Pentagon on this. I know that in the past anti-Religious groups have browbeaten the DoD into cancelling speeches by Christians. The answer to speech you disagree with isn’t to demand that that speech get cancelled, it is to engage in the “Free Marketplace of Ideas” by including your speech in the topic.
So, by all means, if you want to get upset, do so. But don’t assume that the DoD is going to start arresting Christians when the policy doesn’t indicate that. If you are in the service and you want to talk about your faith, you are free to do so. What you aren’t allowed to do is to try to convert your subordinates to your religion. The policy never once mentions “Christ”, “Christians” or “Jesus”. It is absolutely neutral on religion. What everyone should be focused on is ensuring that the DoD policy is administered properly. Until such time as it is not administered properly, we should all be voicing our opinions freely on how religious freedoms are an integral part of society, military or civilian.