To Expand Religious Freedom in the Military, Republicans Need to Win the Senate, Congressman Says

WASHINGTON - If Republicans take control of the U.S. Senate in November, they will do a better job securing religious freedom in the U.S. military, Dr. John Fleming (R), U.S. Representative for the Fourth Congressional District of Louisiana, said at a Wednesday event sponsored by the Family Research Council.

In an interview with The Christian Post, Dr. Fleming explained that his efforts to get an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act allowing for better protection of religious liberty have failed in the Senate. If passed, his amendment would expand religious freedom protections to include religious actions and speech, rather than just religious beliefs, "except in cases of military necessity."

Fleming believed that the November elections could positively influence the direction of the effort to secure religious expression in the military through passage of his amendment.

"I think it well could because we really have wanted stronger language but the Senate has blocked us," said Fleming.

"If Republicans take the Senate, I think that we will strengthen our language and force the military's hand. And we'll put the next NDAA on the desk of the President and I think he'll be tempted to sign it."

Fleming also told CP that he came to speak at FRC due to their involvement on the issue of religious freedom in the military.

"Of course FRC has been in this battle. They know I've been one whose been on point in this battle," said Fleming.

"They just felt it was time for us to kind of pull it all together and put it out in one discussion and really get it all out."

Fleming's remarks came as he was the featured speaker at an FRC event focused on the state of religious liberty in the U.S. military.

"Fleming's primary goals are to uphold the U.S. Constitution and to be a servant leader to the people he represents," reads a description of the event on the FRC website.

"He's been named a 'Defender of Liberty' by the American Conservative Union, a 'Congressional Sentinel' by Heritage Action for America, and a 'Guardian of Small Business' by the National Federation of Independent Business."

Attendees in person and watching online heard Fleming discuss the political effort to help guarantee religious liberty reform for the military.

"We've seen a growing list of instances in the military of censoring the free speech of our service members," said Fleming to those gathered.

"Bible verses removed from personal whiteboards, sermons in a chaplains' blog post edited or removed, career reprisals for voicing religious views on marriage or other issues, the removal of paintings with a religious undertones ..."

Fleming also talked about "culture war" issues, including the Health and Human Services' "preventive services" mandate and the debate over marijuana legalization.

The debate over the state of religious liberty in the military has involved two opposite views on the issue of where the problem of religious freedom exists in the armed forces.

While conservatives like Fleming and the FRC see the military as primarily attacking Christians for their expressed beliefs, other groups typically on the political left view the evangelical subculture in the armed forces as the greater danger.

Simon Brown of the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State, argued in a blog entry last year that religious conservatives are "crying wolf" over the issue of religious liberty in the military.

"The military may be looking to curb aggressive and inappropriate proselytizing, and rightfully so," wrote Brown.

"But at this moment, there is no evidence to suggest that simply expressing one's religious beliefs would lead to any sort of punishment."

Dr. James Parco stated on behalf of the secular group the Center for Inquiry that the religious bias in the armed forces is in favor of Fundamentalist Christianity.

"In light of increasing religious fundamentalism within the ranks, coupled with a lack of social and political will to affect change, the cultural reticence to hold commanders accountable for inappropriate behavior remains an obstacle," wrote Parco.

When asked by CP about the different views on religious liberty threats in the military, Fleming responded that groups claiming that evangelicals are the problem wanted "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."

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