Washington, D.C. — The Pentagon has responded to concerns over reports that an atheist organization has asked the government to enforce a military regulation that prohibits proselytization by superiors.
As previously reported, Mikey Weinstein of The Military Religious Freedom Foundation recently told reporter Todd Starnes that he wants to end conversion efforts by military leaders, and compared evangelistic activity to rape.
“Someone needs to be punished for this,” he said. “Until the Air Force or Army or Navy or Marine Corps punishes a member of the military for unconstitutional religious proselytizing and oppression, we will never have the ability to stop this horrible, horrendous, dehumanizing behavior.”
“It is a version of being spiritually raped and you are being spiritually raped by fundamentalist Christian religious predators,” Weinstein asserted.
Starnes reports that Weinstein met with Pentagon officials on April 23rd in an effort to urge them to enforce current laws, which require military superiors to “balance constitutional protections for an individual’s free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion.”
“If a member of the military is proselytizing in a manner that violates the law, well then of course they can be prosecuted,” he stated. “We would love to see hundreds of prosecutions to stop this outrage of fundamentalist religious persecution.”
The Pentagon later confirmed that proselytization is prohibited.
“Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense,” spokesperson Nate Christensen stated. “Court martials and non-judicial punishments are decided on a case-by-case basis and it would be inappropriate to speculate on the outcome in specific cases.”
Following concerns over the matter, the Pentagon has released a second statement to provide further clarification.
“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),” it wrote, parenthesis in original. “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.”
“The U.S. Department of Defense has never and will never single out a particular religious group for persecution or prosecution,” it noted. “The Department makes reasonable accommodations for all religions and celebrates the religious diversity of our service members.”
“We work to ensure that all service members are free to exercise their Constitutional right to practice their religion — in a manner that is respectful of other individuals’ rights to follow their own belief systems; and in ways that are conducive to good order and discipline; and that do not detract from accomplishing the military mission,” the statement concluded.
However, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a Christian legal organization headquarted in Scottsdale, Arizona, states that it remains concerned over the matter.
“We appreciate the Pentagon’s clarification, but little or no evidence exists of coercive proselytization in the military, so we are still troubled over what motivated the original comments,” stated attorney Joseph La Rue in a press release issued Thursday. “We wish to ensure that the Pentagon does not deny members of the armed services the basic freedoms that the Constitution guarantees all Americans. For that reason, Alliance Defending Freedom is serious about investigating this gross error.”
ADF submitted a Freedom of Information request this week to further research the matter.