Congressman Renews Call to President to Lift Military Prayer Restrictions

Recalling last month’s presidential state visit to China, a North Carolina congressional representative renewed his call on President Bush to continue to “lead and promote” religious freedom at home and internationally by focusing on allegations of illegal military restrictions on prayer.

In a letter sent out Friday, Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) commended the President for speaking out on the issue of freedom to worship during a December state visit to China. However, the congressman urged the president to end what he sees as undue military restrictions in public prayers by military chaplains, by issuing an executive order to overturn current guidelines.

“As you continue to address the global problem of religious persecution, we once again request that you issue an Executive Order to end the religious discrimination and persecution of our U.S. military chaplains,” he wrote. “It is in the best interest of our Armed Services and this nation to guarantee the constitutional right of military chaplains to pray according to their faith.”

Last October, 71 House members and three senators issued a letter to President Bush protesting proposed Air Force guidelines for prayer and conduct of military personnel, following an investigation of allegations of religious intimidation by evangelical Christian soldiers against cadets of other religions or no religion at the Air Force Academy based in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The guidelines are part of wider changes at the Air Force that include other restrictions on being able to “instruct and/or evangelize.” Such restrictions encourage members of the Armed Forces to “respect the religious views and practices of all members,” a Pentagon spokeswoman said when the original call for an Executive Order was made.

Current Air Force restrictions allow chaplains to pray freely in situations where cadets attend voluntary assemblies. However a more general “non-sectarian prayer” is required to be used in non-routine military ceremonies or special events, including promotion ceremonies, significant celebrations or others.

Rep. Jones has previously noted that the prayer restrictions have an effect on all chaplains regardless of religion.