Tony Perkins to Pentagon: End 'Religious Hostility' in Military

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, recently stated that in spite of recent comments from the Pentagon clarifying that it will not discriminate against evangelicals in the U.S. military, he believes that more must be done to ensure that the religious freedom of those in the armed forces is respectfully observed.

"While we appreciate the [Department of Defense's] public assurances, they mean nothing until the Pentagon and the Air Force take specific steps to roll back the climate of religious hostility in our military – and that includes disavowing extremists like Mikey Weinstein," Perkins wrote Thursday in a blog post on FRC's website.

"For too long, the [Department of Defense] has tested the limits of political correctness, turning a policy of religious neutrality into an excuse for religious hostility. It's time for the Pentagon to show the American people who it stands with: Mikey Weinstein or our brave men and women in uniform?" Perkins continued.

"If the latter, then it's time they ensured our troops can exercise the very rights they protect."

Perkins was referencing the April 23 meeting between Pentagon officials and Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

The meeting, which involved other attendees besides Weinstein, reportedly had to do with tolerance and harassment issues within the military.

As The Christian Post previously reported, Weinstein has made incendiary remarks regarding Christianity, describing pro-family, traditional Christian groups as "fundamentalist Christian monsters," and has spoken out against what he has described as "virulent religious oppression" by conservative Christians within military ranks.

Shortly after this reported meeting between the Pentagon and Weinstein, Todd Starnes, correspondent for Fox News, wrote an article which included interviews with Weinstein and Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen.

The structure of the interviews suggested that proselytization could result in punishment by court-martialing.

In response to these comments, the Family Research Council launched a petition addressed to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, calling for the religious rights of those serving in the military to be protected.

The Pentagon then released a statement seeking to clarify the confusion which caused many to express alarm over the possible persecution of Christians in the military.

Department of Defense spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen clarified in his statement that aggressive proselytization continues to be barred in military ranks, but evangelism and the spreading of the Gospel is still permitted.

"The U.S. Department of Defense has never and will never single out a particular religious group for persecution or prosecution," Christensen said in a statement, as reported by The Tennessean.

 "The Department makes reasonable accommodations for all religions and celebrates the religious diversity of our service members."

Christensen then sought to clarify the difference between evangelism and 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)," the spokesman defined.

As the Air Force Law Review clarified in 2007, evangelism within the military is acceptable, but proselytization becomes unacceptable if it reaches an excessively aggressive point in which the listener feels threatened or becomes distracted form performing his or her duty.

The article by the AFLR states that if the "repeated, unwanted nature of the proselytizing ... affects the listener's morale and ability to do his job and thus interfere with mission accomplishment and unit effectiveness," then the religious speech becomes "unprotected."

Christensen confirmed this to The Tennessean: "If a service member harasses another member on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, or disability, then the commander takes action based on the gravity of the occurrence. Likewise, when religious harassment complaints are reported, commanders take action based on the gravity of the occurrence on a case-by-case basis."

Still, many conservative Christians, including Perkins and others, remain unconvinced that the military has maintained its openness toward religious freedom in recent years.

Many cite the 2011 repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the recent controversy involving the labeling of evangelical Christianity and Catholicism as "religious extremism" in a U.S. Army Reserve Equal Opportunity training brief.

In the latter controversy, the Army argued that the brief was an "isolated incident" and the slide describing evangelicals and Catholics as "extremist" had been removed from the brief's powerpoint presentation.

The Pentagon's recent meeting with Weinstein doesn't do much to assuage the concern of Christians either.

"God help us now when someone with such visceral hatred of conservative Christians – literally tens of millions of Americans – who says sharing this gospel is 'spiritual rape' is helping develop policies for how to deal with Christians in the military," Ken Klukowski, director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council, wrote on the conservative website Breitbart recently.

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