Thursday, May 2, 2013

Is Religious Proselytizing a Problem in the Military?

Is religious proselytizing a problem in the military? Sean Hannity picked up the topic today on his radio program, protesting what he called the denial of the right of freedom of speech, "the bedrock of values in our country." He said that the Pentagon was proposing rules that would court-martial people who proselytized within the Pentagon. He asserted that it would even involve chaplains, who could not talk about their faith to soldiers who were seeking spiritual counseling, something he says that they have done since George Washington.

But the Military Religious Freedom Foundation says that there is a problem. The Associated Press reports that their leader, Mikey Weinstein, met with Pentagon officials:
MRFF founder Mikey Weinstein (WYN'-steen) says even a Christian bumper sticker on an officer's car or a Bible on an officer's desk can amount to "pushing this fundamentalist version of Christianity on helpless subordinates."
However, freedom of speech is never absolute. For instance, exercising one's First Amendment rights does not give one license to commit sexual harassment of a type that creates a hostile work environment. Your right to play loud music in your apartment ends when it steps on my right to privacy in my apartment and to have a good night's sleep. Your right to exercise freedom of expression does not mean you can come into my apartment, deface my wall, and call it freedom of speech. One close parallel to the one being discussed here is the topic of sexual harassment. In 1986, the Supreme Court unanimously held that sexual harassment is prohibited under US law; specifically, under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as subsequent EEOC guidelines.
In its ruling, the SCOTUS held that a claim of "hostile environment" sexual harassment is a form of discrimination that is actionable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They further held that it was not limited to economic or tangible discrimination based on EEOC guidelines. Furthermore, the court held that the proper inquiry was whether the sexual advances were unwelcome, not whether her participation in them was voluntary. After all, there is a pervasive fear in these situations that if she does not participate, then she could be terminated on the spot.
In 1993, the Supreme Court expanded its ruling unanimously. In a unanimous opinion that even Justice Scalia reluctantly concurred with, the Supreme Court concluded that a victim of sexual harassment need not prove psychological injury to prove sexual harassment claims.
Justice O'Connor said that one had to look at the totality of the case in order to determine sexual harassment claims:
But Title VII comes into play before the harassing conduct leads to a nervous breakdown. A discriminatorily abusive work environment, even one that does not seriously affect employees' psychological well-being, can and often will detract from employees' job performance, discourage employees from remaining on the job, or keep them from advancing in their careers. Moreover, even without regard to these tangible effects, the very fact that the discriminatory conduct was so severe or pervasive that it created a work environment abusive to employees because of their race, gender, religion, or national origin offends Title VII's broad rule of workplace equality. The appalling conduct alleged in Meritor, and the reference in that case to environments " 'so heavily polluted with discrimination as to destroy completely the emotional and psychological stability of minority group workers,' " merely present some especially egregious examples of harassment. They do not mark the boundary of what is actionable. We therefore believe the District Court erred in relying on whether the conduct "seriously affect(ed) plaintiff's psychological well-being" or led her to "suffe(r) injury." Such an inquiry may needlessly focus the factfinder's attention on concrete psychological harm, an element Title VII does not require. Certainly Title VII bars conduct that would seriously affect a reasonable person's psychological well-being, but the statute is not limited to such conduct. So long as the environment would reasonably be perceived, and is perceived, as hostile or abusive, there is no need for it also to be psychologically injurious.
This is not, and by its nature cannot be, a mathematically precise test. We need not answer today all the potential questions it raises, nor specifically address the E.E.O.C.'s new regulations on this subject. But we can say that whether an environment is "hostile" or "abusive" can be determined only by looking at all the circumstances. These may include the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee's work performance. The effect on the employee's psychological well-being is, of course, relevant to determining whether the plaintiff actually found the environment abusive. But while psychological harm, like any other relevant factor, may be taken into account, no single factor is required.
So, applying this logic to religious proselytizing, the common sense question should be whether or not it creates a hostile work environment for persons serving in the military. If sexual harassment affects peoples' work performance in a corporate setting, then how much more damaging to our national security is religious harassment that creates a hostile work environment when it comes time to defend our country from attack? Edith Disler of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation specifically takes issue with the work of Johnathan Dowly and the "God and Country" Air Force Blog, which she says engages in repeated violations of Air Force policy.
In one post on April 15th, Dowly quotes approvingly Justice Scalia, who argues that the polygamy debates following the civil war were specifically waged on moral grounds:
Back in 2003, Justice Anthony Kennedy…argued that moral opposition to homosexuality was not a rational basis for the establishment of a law. In response, Justice Antonin Scalia argued that Kennedy had just eliminated any legal barrier to same-sex marriage. “If moral disapprobation of homosexual conduct is ‘no legitimate state interest’ for purposes of proscribing that conduct…what justification could there possibly be for denying the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples exercising ‘the liberty protected by the Constitution?’”…
What, other than morality, sustains any laws restricting human sexual behavior?
The legislative debate over the prohibition of polygamy after the Civil War was explicitly moral. Sociological analysis did not drive that movement, morality did. What about all the other laws that restrict sexual acts? Are they also to be cast down by this logic?
On the other hand, a poster to the MRFF page linked above, Ed McGaa, a Native American and Korean War and Vietnam Vet, said that religion was not indicative of performance and that he knew from first hand experience in the military that religious harassment and discrimination was a problem:
To start with, I Don’t like you people. Your latest is picking that silly Wart Hog w/o burners to support Close Air. It is akin to the AD, which your ‘Commandos’ got blasted into oblivion. Pulling off at 145 knots with a full load plus fuel was suicide. If your pilots did like we ALWAYS did- take a damn good look that first pass (Fully loaded) then drop next time. (Keeps your own troop casualty rate lower.): Pull out is crucial in CAS. Afterburners make one helluva difference. I could reveal much more from my experience but this is not the issue. Now you bus driver blue folks are permeating our military with religion. I volunteered for Korea as a Marine Grunt. Later as an F-4 Driver volunteered for a combat tour first, putting off my law school acceptance for a year. Pretty damn good credentials. Damn near 100% of my Grunt company and later my squadron never went near a church our combat tours. I did cut one into with 20mm and got secondary’s. Chaplains were used for family deaths and arrangements and NO proselytizing. Am I irreligious? I doubt it. I have endured 6 Sun Dances on my Sioux reservation thanking my God concept for giving me my life. Doubt if any Christian can go out in a hot August Sun for four days fasting- no water either. Thanks to MLK we got our spirituality/Sioux religion back after your nut fanatic missionaries lobbied Congress to ban our WAY. You put us in your over-religious Boarding Schools and did more damage. Not just Pedophilia rampant-ism but you never prepared us academically in your schools. Thank Creator I was spared such a fate. Our Reservation was part of the Air force Bombing Range south of Ellsworth AFB and we moved off our Rez Ranch to Rapid City where I received Public School education. Hence I hold a law degree won after my Nam tour. I am the author of 12 books- 3 are Harper/Collins, one almost 50 times reprinted. You keep letting these religious nut officers taking over your military that carries atomic weapons and I will write a public warning on you people. I have already done a good job on the zealot fanatics aforementioned.
What bothers me is that so many good airmen in the enlisted ranks are getting passed over , young officers too, because they do not kow tow to Jesus. These people get disgusted and simply leave the military. What a tragic waste and defilement of innocent lives. We Sioux people well know what danger fanaticism can do, we are the victims. Now you are putting our country at risk. Will an Air Force Bomber someday, arranged to have an all fanatic crew get unleashed to carry out or instigate the ‘Blood Bath”- “Rivers of Blood” that Pat Robertson preaches on his show? The Islamics are already inebriated but their Arab Dhows are fairly puny. It could Happen from our side. Fanatic inspired Germany WW II happened. Better take a damn serious look at your job
On December 7th, 2012, Dowly got in trouble with the Air Force for making the following remark. Referring to a soldier who had gotten charged with bestiality, Dowly wrote:
Apparently, he thought the repeal of DADT meant he didn't have to live a lie, and wouldn't be punished just for loving someone -- er -- something -- whatever.
The article links to a letter of complaint Disler wrote about the post charging the Air Force with allowing him to write with impunity. The question is, is Dowly, by his actions, creating a hostile work environment for someone who is a subordinate given that he is a major in the Air Force? The other question is, is Dowly an isolated case of this, or is there a systematic pattern of religious harassment by Christian fundamentalists of people who do not share their beliefs? Ron Crews of American Thinker charges that it is the other way around, that a hostile work environment is being created for conservative Christians serving in the military. Commenting on an equal opportunity presentation that he says listed evangelical Christianity as tops on a list of religious extremists, he says:
But the problem is that this type of presentation is indicative of where the Army and others have been heading as regards Christianity and other traditionally American faiths.  And the pressures that have been brought to bear on chaplains since the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell have only exacerbated this. In a climate of true religious liberty, the kind of presentation that listed Christianity as akin to terrorist groups would never have been made -- or, if made, would never have been presented.
But I fear that the anti-religious climate currently afoot among military brass is not really anti-religious so much as it is anti-Christian.  Unless it is reversed, Christians in the military will be regularly inundated with what others see as the negative aspects of the faith.
Ken Klukowski, writing in Breitbart, reports that the Pentagon has hired MRFF founder Mikey Weinstein as a consultant to help them develop policies on religious tolerance. He writes:
Yet the little coverage this story is getting is positive, such as this Washington Post column that somehow manages not to carry any of these frightening quotes from Weinstein and instead actually endorses the Pentagon’s meeting with him. Sally Quinn’s Post column also approvingly quotes MRFF Advisory Board member Larry Wilkerson as saying, “Sexual assault and proselytizing, according to Wilkerson, ‘are absolutely destructive of the bonds that keep soldiers together.’” Did you get that? They say having someone share the Christian gospel with you is akin to being raped. Weinstein makes sure there are no doubts, being quoted by the Post as adding, “This is a national security threat. What is happening [aside from sexual assault] is spiritual rape. And what the Pentagon needs is to understand is that it is sedition and treason. It should be punished.”
But Weinstein, writing in the Huffington Post, says that it is not his goal to run out all evangelicals from the military. In a rant directed against the Family Research Council and other similar groups, he says:
Neither MRFF nor any other genuine religious freedom organization of any repute has ever championed -- and never would champion -- that evangelical Christians, as a whole, should be ousted from the government or the military. We demand only that people of all faiths (or no faith) obey their solemnly sworn oath to the Constitution and follow the military's regulations regarding religion. Yet it is now MRFF and its allies who, in the blighted and vacuous eyes of the hatemongers represented all too well by the AFA, FRC, and Fox News, are now the true religious "persecutors"? Uh huh. Right. Only to the extent that up is now down, cat is now dog, and "rainy day" is now "sunny day." We should as a nation effusively applaud Lt. Col. Rich for his absolutely correct characterization of anti-gay religious extremist organizations as "hate groups" with no place in today's U.S. military. But we are compelled to venture even further. We MUST vigorously support the continuing efforts to expose pathologically anti-gay, Islamophobic, and rabidly intolerant agitators for what they are: die-hard enemies of the United States Constitution. Monsters, one and all. To do any less would be to roll out a red carpet to those who would usher in a blood-drenched, draconian era of persecutions, nationalistic militarism, and superstitious theocracy. Human history is all too festooned and replete with countless examples of such bleak and forlorn tragedies.
If these fundamentalist Christian monsters of human degradation, marginalization, humiliation and tyranny cannot broker or barter your acceptance of their putrid theology, then they crave for your universal silence in the face of their rapacious reign of theocratic terror. Indeed, they ceaselessly lust, ache, and pine for you to do absolutely nothing to thwart their oppression. Comply, my friends, and you, too, become as monstrously savage as are they. I beg you, do not feed these hideous monsters with your stoic lethargy, callousness and neutrality. Do not lubricate the path of their racism, bigotry, and prejudice. Doing so directly threatens the national security of our beautiful nation.
This is a problem that was swept under the rug for many years and that is just now getting addressed. For many years, the military tried to avoid the problem simply by excluding gays from the military. Later, they switched to "Don't Ask Don't Tell." However, now that Don't Ask Don't Tell is repealed, the military is having to confront the conflict between conservative religious groups and same-sex servicepeople head-on for the first time instead of trying to find an easy way out.

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