A clear and present danger
Legatus reports on the rapid de-Christianization of the United States military . . .
With Catholic priests facing the possibility of arrest during last month’s government “slimdown,” Americans of all faiths are beginning to realize the perilous situation faced by Christians in the U.S. Armed Forces.
War on Christians
The entire situation has Chuck LiMandri fighting mad. After battling for religious liberty in the U.S. for more than a decade, LiMandri is sounding a clarion call to alert Americans about the crackdown on Christians in the military.
An attorney and founder of the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, LiMandri has been speaking to Legatus chapters across the country about this massive infringement on the Constitution.
It was when he began tracking breaches of religious liberty in the military following the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy that LiMandri quickly learned that chaplains and others were being pressured to support gay relationships — including gay “marriage” — regardless of their religious convictions.
“They’re being told: Either don’t enlist or check your values at the door if you’re going to be a Christian in the military,” said LiMandri, a member of Legatus’ board of governors and the San Diego Chapter.
That and other encroachments on First Amendment rights in the military — and an overall growing hostility to religion, primarily Christianity, in the armed forces — are detailed in A Clear and Present Danger, a Family Research Council report issued in September.
The report states such incidents have been occurring for the last decade, but that under the Obama administration, they have intensified across all military branches — particularly in the U.S. Air Force. The report details evidence of “concerted efforts to scrub the military of religious expression, through which the chilling effect of punishment and potential career destruction lie at the back of everyone’s mind.”
Incidents that have taken place since DADT’s 2011 repeal include:
• Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Phillip Monk was relieved of his duties in June, a year before his planned retirement, when he disagreed with his lesbian commander, Maj. Elisa Valenzuela, after she proposed severely punishing an instructor who had objected to homosexuality on religious grounds. In August, a week after filing a discrimination complaint against Valenzuela, Monk was read his Miranda rights and told that he was the subject of a criminal investigation for making a false official statement, which he denies.
• In August, an army chaplain’s assistant was told to remove a Facebook post in which she had expressed her frustrations with pastors who endorse homosexual behavior and deny it is sinful. Her commander said the post created a “hostile and antagonistic” environment and she was threatened with disciplinary action, including a possible cut in rank and pay if she did not comply.
A dangerous trend
The FRC report also details the efforts of attorney Michael “Mikey” Weinstein, who founded the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) in 2005. Weinstein alleges that Christians — including chaplains — sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ in the military are guilty of “treason” and of committing “spiritual rape.” He also asserts that Christians sharing their faith in the military are “enemies of the Constitution.”
Weinstein’s group also joined the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in 2012 to prevent retired Army Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin from speaking at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, claiming he had made “Islamophobic” comments.
Boykin, now the Family Research Council’s executive vice president, told Legatus magazine that Weinstein’s assault on religious expression accelerated after Obama’s election and has ratcheted up even more since DADT’s repeal.
The FRC’s efforts to expose this religious cleansing generated 170,000 online signatures petitioning Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to protect religious liberty within the military, Boykin said. A second petition supporting Monk garnered another 50,000 signatures. FRC also organized a coalition to amend the National Defense Authorization Act to protect the religious beliefs and actions of service members in all branches of the military.
Boykin said it is not just committed Christians who feel strongly about infringements on religious liberty in the military. “It’s people who believe in the First Amendment and believe that this is a crucial issue,” he said.
The battle continues, however. Boykin said the FRC-led coalition is getting a considerable amount of feedback from military personnel who are having difficulties expressing their faith.
“The problem is very widespread,” Boykin said. “It’s the whole military, [including] the Coast Guard, National Guard units, the academies. I talk to people every week who are telling me about the struggles that they’re having.”
Boykin said the Department of Defense appears to be making a concerted effort to reduce the influence of Christianity and individual Christians inside the military. Yet, he said, the statements of convicted Fort Hood killer Maj. Nidal Hasan before his shooting rampage were ignored, even though he had told senior officers that as a practicing Muslim, he was obliged to kill infidels.
“No one did anything,” Boykin said. “What that means is that Islam is a protected religion. Contrast that with attacks on Christianity and you see a very dangerous trend in America.”
Ron Crews, a retired army chaplain and executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, said military chaplains also are facing challenges to their religious freedom — including threats of arrest for priests voluntarily ministering to men during the partial government slimdown.
In one instance, he said, a chaplain inquired at a DADT briefing whether those who believe that homosexual behavior is sinful would be able to speak accordingly. He was told, “If you can’t get in line with this position, resign your commission.”
Crews said chaplains supposedly cannot be forced to do anything that would violate their consciences, including performing same-sex “marriage” ceremonies and conducting retreats with same-sex couples as part of the military’s marriage-enrichment training.
To clarify what the Catholic Church expects of its chaplains in the armed forces, Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services USA issued a statement Sept. 18 reiterating that no Catholic priest or deacon may be forced to witness or bless same-gender unions or assist at a marriage retreat if it’s open to same-sex couples. In addition, the statement covers counseling situations and participation in military ceremonies and funerals.
Archbishop Broglio said questions remain about what chaplains can and cannot do in situations that are not confined to their immediate duties. “We believe we practice our faith all the time, not just when we’re in church. Is a chaplain in jeopardy when he teaches the Catholic faith in a situation that’s not strictly religious or a situation of worship? That remains to be seen.”
The archbishop said the current administration appears to be using its control over the military to achieve social change. “Traditionally, in most societies, the military represents a more conservative structure and certain traditional values,” he told Legatus magazine. “That’s how the military survives: with patriotism and respect for order. So if you can force that institution, which is of its nature more conservative, to be a catalyst for change, or something of a proving ground, then you have altered society.”
Although it seems like many Americans are oblivious to what’s happening in the military, LiMandri believes that if enough of them are informed and mobilized, this disturbing trend can be reversed. “We can turn things around even if only 20% of Americans feel strongly about it.”
JUDY ROBERTS is Legatus magazine’s staff writer.
Priest sues federal government over base access
Suit continues despite the end of partial government shutdown
by Joan Frawley Desmond
Father Ray Leonard was slated to begin providing Catholic services on Oct. 1 at the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in St. Mary’s Ga.
But after the government shutdown, the Catholic priest, who had contracted with the U.S. Department of Defense to celebrate Mass and provide sacramental preparation for the 300 Catholic families on the base, was told he would not be able to provide such services — not even as a volunteer. (Click here for an editorial on this issue.)
Father Leonard contacted the Thomas More Law Center, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based public interest law firm. And on Oct. 14, legal counsel Erin Mersino filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court in Washington, D.C., that challenged the policy, which was based on laws governing the funding of civilian contracts, including priests like Fr. Leonard, who are hired to bolster the ranks of Catholic military chaplains.
One day after the lawsuit was filed, three U.S. Department of Justice attorneys contacted the TMLC to alert Mersino that Fr. Leonard would be able to return to the base to perform Catholic services. Subsequently, the Navy chain of command confirmed the new guidance.
In a statement released after the government reversed its policy, TMLC’s president and chief counsel Richard Thompson expressed alarm that contract priests like Fr. Leonard had been barred from serving Catholics on military bases and described the policy as a “blatant attack on religious liberty.
“I would never have imagined that our government would ever bar Catholic priests from saying Mass under threat of arrest and prevent Catholics from participating in their religious exercises,” said Thompson. “Allowing the chapel doors to open and Fr. Leonard to fulfill his priestly responsibilities does not erase the constitutional violations that occurred. We don’t want this to occur again the next time there is a government shutdown. Our lawsuit will continue.”
JOAN FRAWLEY DESMOND is the National Catholic Register’s senior editor. This article, which appeared at NCRegister.com on Oct. 16, 2013, was reprinted with permission.
Activate Your Faith
READ: A Clear and Present Danger, the Family Research Council report on religious liberty in the military
CONTACT: Congressman and Senators; tell them to defend religious liberty of those in the military
HELP GROUPS WORKING TO PRESERVE RELIGIOUS LIBERTY: Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund
Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty
Alliance Defending Freedom
American Freedom Law Center