WASHINGTON, D.C. — Internet posts making the rounds claiming that the Defense Department will court-martial service members who espouse Christianity are not true, a Pentagon spokesman said today.
“The Department of Defense places a high value on the rights of members of the military services to observe the tenets of their respective religions and respects, [and supports by its policy] the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs,” Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen said in a written statement on the issue.
“The department does not endorse any one religion or religious organization, and provides free access of religion for all members of the military services,” he added.
Internet posts are attributing a statement that superior officers who try to convert those under their command should face court-martial to Mikey Weinstein, president of the Albuquerque, N.M.-based Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and are identifying him as a Pentagon advisor, Christensen noted.
“Mr. Weinstein is not part of any DOD advisory group or committee, nor is he a consultant to the Defense Department regarding religious matters,” Christensen said. “Mr. Weinstein requested, and was granted, a meeting at the Pentagon April 23, with the Air Force judge advocate general and others, to include the deputy chief of chaplains, to express his concerns of religious issues in the military.”
Some bloggers have taken sections of Air Force Instruction 1-1 “Air Force Standards” – specifically, the section titled “Government Neutrality Regarding Religion” – out of context in supporting their take, Christensen said.
“Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for an individual’s free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion,” the instruction states.
Air Force leaders at all levels “must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion. Commanders or supervisors who engage in such behavior may cause members to doubt their impartiality and objectivity. The potential result is a degradation of the unit’s morale, good order, and discipline,” the instruction goes on to say.
The instruction further says all Airmen “are able to choose to practice their particular religion, or subscribe to no religious belief at all.” It tells Airmen to practice their own beliefs while respecting differing viewpoints.
The right to practice religious beliefs does not excuse Airmen from complying with directives, instructions and lawful orders, the instruction says.
It adds that Airmen “must ensure that in exercising their right of religious free expression, they do not degrade morale, good order, and discipline in the Air Force or degrade the trust and confidence that the public has in the United States Air Force.”