Proponents of Religion Push for More Freedom of Expression in the Military

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Byline: Annie Z. Yu, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

There are famously no atheists in foxholes, but some conservatives say that the American military is not giving a fair shake to soldiers, sailors and Marines who want to practice their faith and express their beliefs more openly.

The Family Research Council and more than a dozen other conservative and pro-family groups this month announced a renewed push in Congress for stronger legislative protection for religious military personnel to combat what they say is a threat to religious liberty in the nation's armed forces. A report from the Family Research Council documented a range of events in the military - such as one in which an Air Force officer was told to remove a Bible from his desk - that the group said exposed a growing hostility to religion.

Critics say the charges are overblown and are part of a covert move to promote evangelical Christianity within the ranks, but the coalition says it has collected a number of examples of violations of religious liberty and expression inside the military.

There is a growing list of cases and incidents that point to the fact that religious liberty in our nation's military is under attack, said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.

One event detailed in the report described a soldier who was reprimanded for serving fare from Chick-fil-A - known for its owners' strong Christian beliefs - and for making statements related to the federal law on same-sex marriage at his promotion party. Religious leaders have had invitations to speak at military events abruptly withdrawn, and military personnel have been ordered to remove religious signs and symbols.

Rep. John Fleming, Louisiana Republican, proposed an amendment last month to the 2014 defense authorization bill that specifically protects the actions and speech of religious personnel, rather than just their beliefs. The third-term lawmaker said the amendment was needed because chaplains feel restricted in how they can pray and preach, and officers are being warned not to display their faith openly.

The Obama administration issued a statement opposing Mr. Fleming's amendment, saying it limited the ability of commanders to address potentially problematic speech and actions within their units and would have a negative overall effect on military units. But the full House supported the amendment and a similar provision, co-sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, and Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, has been approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Pushback

The drive is being met by a countercampaign from secular activists, who have proposed ?reforms to fight what they say is a growing religious activism that pushes Christianity onto military personnel with different beliefs.

Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, said the complaints of hostility to religion in the military are in reality an example of Christian privilege that leads to the religious oppression of non-Christians. …