WASHINGTON — A Christian legal organization is praising the Pentagon for recent changes made to its official policies, which now provide greater protections to religious personnel in the military.
The Plano, Texas-based Liberty Institute applauded the Department of Defense (DoD) after it unveiled its modified religious accommodation policy on Wednesday.
In addition to updating its policies regarding grooming and appearance, the Pentagon also outlined its protections for religious practices in general from punishment.
“The DoD places a high value on the rights of members of the military services to observe the tenets of their respective religions or to observe no religion at all,” the policy reads. “It protects the civil liberties of its personnel and the public to the greatest extent possible, consistent with its military requirements, in accordance with DoD Instruction.”
“In so far as practicable, a service member’s expression of sincerely held beliefs (conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs) may not be used as the basis of any adverse personnel action, discrimination, or denial of promotion, schooling, training, or assignment,” it continues.
The policy also uses the “compelling government interest” standard as cited by the federal courts, and requires that any government interest that might infringe upon religious liberty must do so by the “least restrictive means.”
Religious groups have expressed differing opinions about the adjustments. Religion News Service reports that some Sikhs opine that the changes “fall short” of providing necessary protections to religious personnel, while some Jewish rabbis state that the Pentagon is now “putting their money where their mouth is” in regard to religious and cultural diversity. However, the Christian-centered Liberty Institute says that the policy adjustments are encouraging,
“This is a great victory for people of faith serving in the Armed Forces,” said Director of Litigation Hiram Sasser. “For the first time, the Department of Defense has stated it will accommodate the religious speech and practices of service members, unless DOD can prove why it cannot accommodate the religious speech or practice.”
“This means the burden is now on DOD instead of the individual service member,” he continued. “DOD must prove its case and the individual service member engaging in religious speech automatically gets the benefit of the doubt.”
The Liberty Institute pointed back to a matter involving a San Antonio Air Force combat veteran, who was allegedly punished by his lesbian sergeant after he declined to express affirmation of homosexual “marriage.”
“Senior Master Sergeant [Phillip] Monk and others who took an oath to fight for the Constitution stood up and now, DOD is amending its policy to be consistent with the Constitution and federal law,” stated Michael Berry, Senior Counsel and Director of Military Affairs for Liberty Institute. “The best part of this new policy is that DOD must prove that a restriction on religious speech or action is the least restrictive of all other options in order to justify its actions.”
“DOD flipped its policy from one that defaulted to no religious accommodation to one that defaults to protect religious speech,” Sasser said. “It is in the best interest of the nation and our national defense to allow our service members to come out of the closet about their faith and to enjoy the very legal protections they fight to preserve for us all.”