Are There Really More 'Radical Christians' in the Military Like Newsweek Said?

Citadel Cadets
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Jeb Bush (not pictured) addresses cadets at the U.S. military at The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, in Charleston, South Carolina November 18, 2015. |

[UPDATED May 26, 2017, 5:07 p.m.]

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a response from Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

A retired United States Army chaplain is taking issue with a recent Newsweek piece claiming that the election of Donald Trump has created a rise in "radical Christians" within the military.

Newsweek ran a story Monday claiming that the U.S. Armed Forces have seen an uptick in evangelical and fundamentalist Christian religious bigotry since Trump became president.

Mikey Weinstein
Mikey Weinstein of Albuquerque, New Mexico, speaks on behalf of the watchdog organization Military Religious Freedom Foundation during a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, December 11, 2006, to call on the Pentagon to launch an investigation into the appearance in a video of senior on-duty U.S. military officers openly promoting their religious commitment while in uniform. |

"Among the complaints: military family and marital therapy programs are being infused with Protestant Christianity, which would violate the U.S. Constitution," stated the article.

"[Complaints also include] open anti-Semitism; anti-LGBT statements, posters, symbols and bullying; openly anti-Muslim teachers and Islamophobic attacks; a rise in on-base evangelizing; and increased pressure on recruits or lower-level personnel and service members to convert to fundamentalist Christianity."

However, Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplains Alliance for Religious Liberty, disputes the merits of the claims of the Newsweek article.

In an interview with The Christian Post, Crews noted that the Newsweek piece's primary source was Mikey Weinstein, the head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

"One would think a periodical such as Newsweek would do more research and at least interview someone other than Mr. Weinstein concerning such serious charges," said Crews.

Ron Crews
Ron Crews, Ch. (Col.) USAR (Ret.), executive director for the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, speaks in favor of a Religious Liberty Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) at the House Triangle in Washington, DC on July 9, 2013. |

Crews said that examples given in the Newsweek article of the rise in religious intolerance under the Trump administration actually predate last year's election.

"The illustration of a Muslim woman being attacked at a commissary was first reported by Mr. Weinstein in 2009. He also mentioned this in an interview in 2015," explained Crews.

"A true journalist would have done some research and asked Mr. Weinstein how he could use this as an example of his premise that this was the result of President Trump."

Crews also took issue with how the Newsweek piece depicted the Strong Bond program, which it described as "an edict requiring thousands of married couples in a marital program ... to participate in Protestant prayer sessions."

"Weinstein's comments about the Strong Bond program have no basis. The Army for the past several years has provided several options of how chaplains may offer this resource to couples – faith-based options as well as non-faith-based," added Crews.

Over the past few years, there has been much debate over the state of religious liberty in the military, with both sides citing incidents of alleged intolerance.

Many conservatives argue that evangelical Christians are the primary target of secularist repression while many liberals argue evangelical Christians are using official channels to impose their beliefs on others.

For example, a 2013 piece by Simon Brown of Americans United for Separation of Church and State argued that conservatives were "crying wolf" over religious intolerance in the military.

"The military may be looking to curb aggressive and inappropriate proselytizing, and rightfully so," wrote Brown, adding that "at this moment, there is no evidence to suggest that simply expressing one's religious beliefs would lead to any sort of punishment."

In an interview with CP from 2014, former Republican Congressman John Fleming of Louisiana argued that the groups claiming evangelicals are to blame for religious intolerance in the military are trying "to limit our First Amendment expression."

"The Supreme Court has handed decisions down time and time and time again and that is if you don't like the speech of someone else, rather than limiting their speech, let's have you speak," said Fleming.

"I have no problem with people who may want to speak behind atheism or whatever they want to speak on as long as they don't limit our right as Christians or other religious groups to speak about ours."

Weinstein told The Christian Post on Friday that Ron Crews was mistaken in his claim that the Muslim incident described in the Newsweek article predated the 2016 presidential election.

Weinstein said that there was a more recent incident of a Muslim woman being harassed at a commissary that, while similar to an incident from years earlier, nevertheless happened to a different member of the military. He could not disclose too many details about the two incidents due to attorney-client privilege.

He also explained to CP that since the Republican National Convention last year, his organization has seen a doubling of the number of military personnel coming to his organization for help regarding religious discrimination claims.

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