What is religious freedom?

 

I find the name of your organisation rather ironic.  You claim to promote religious freedom, yet you want to prevent anyone from speaking about religion.  The US constitution says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or PROHIBITTING THE FREE EXERCISE THEREOF; OR ABRIDGING THE FREEDOM OF SPEECH…”

 

In plain English that means that I am free to talk about my religious faith and you are free to talk about your non-belief in a God WITHOUT the government trying to intervene, not matter where this occurs.

 

So by trying to silence even the mention of the name of Jesus you are trying to PROHIBIT the free exercise of religion and abridging the freedom of speech.  You are also seeking to DENY those who do believe in a god to practice that faith by denying them the ability to learn of opportunities to do so.

In the recent case of the chaplain who called a seminar ‘Lead Like Jesus’ you are overlooking the fact that whatever you believe about who Jesus is claimed to be, he demonstrated some admirable leadership qualities and methods that  would be readily recognised in the secular world.

Yours sincerely,

(name withheld)


Response from MRFF Advisory Board Member Martin France

On Feb 17, 2020, at 12:18 PM, Martin France  wrote:

(name withheld), as an advisory board member for the MRFF, I occasionally answer emails like yours.  I’ve done so below in purple ink.  If you have any questions about my responses, feel free to ask.

 

Date: February 17, 2020 at 11:02:45 AM MST
To: [email protected]
Subject: What is religious freedom?

I find the name of your organisation rather ironic.  You claim to promote religious freedom, yet you want to prevent anyone from speaking about religion.

This is patently untrue.  We not only can’t stop people from talking about religion, but realize that doing so would be a violation of the 1st Amendment that many of us have sworn a solemn oath to defend. However, I hope you’d agree that there are some times in the workplace that it’s not only NOT a good idea to speak about one’s religion.  In fact, recognizing just this, there exists case law, regulations, and instructions designed to help keep the military environment one of respect where good order and discipline are preserved in order to accomplish a (potentially) lethal mission–and that means restrictions on speech and religious proselytizing.  The military workplace is unique in that the command hierarchy and rank structure makes it very easy for senior ranking personnel to exert undue influence on their subordinates in areas (like religion) that are not mission or performance related.  Thus, these rules have long-standing basis and support.

The US constitution says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or PROHIBITTING THE FREE EXERCISE THEREOF; OR ABRIDGING THE FREEDOM OF SPEECH…”

Here, you capitalize (and misspell) PROHIBIT[T]ING, but seem to ignore the previous phrase that says that the government can’t take steps to ESTABLISH a religion.  There’s also an important part of the Constitution (Article 6) that states that there can be no religious test applied to those holding or aspiring to public offices or positions.  So, that means that we can’t make one religious perspective a necessary or sufficient condition for honorable service in our military.  Again, case law (look up “Parker v Levy”) and military instructions (e.g., Air Force Instruction 1-1 among others) say that senior leaders in the military can speak of religion, but they can’t do so in a manner that would imply endorsement of one perspective over others or discriminate against those that do not believe as they do.  Here’s a VERY important excerpt from paragraph 2.12:  Balance of Free Exercise of Religion and Establishment Clause. Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for their own free exercise of religion, including individual expressions of religious beliefs, and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. They must ensure their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed to be officially endorsing or disapproving of, or extending preferential treatment for any faith, belief, or absence of belief.”  

 

In plain English that means that I am free to talk about my religious faith and you are free to talk about your non-belief in a God WITHOUT the government trying to intervene, not matter where this occurs.

No, it doesn’t mean “no[t] matter where this occurs.”  Again, see the above.  Likewise, the Constitution guarantees free speech, but there also rules that prevent government employees and military members from participating or even discussing political views in the workplace.  AFI1-1, para 2.13 discusses this and The Hatch Act also restricts the political activities of government workers of all stripes. 

So by trying to silence even the mention of the name of Jesus you are trying to PROHIBIT the free exercise of religion and abridging the freedom of speech.

No, we’re not.  We’re merely saying that there is a time and place for discussions of religion and the military workplace–outside of established, voluntary chaplain-sponsored programs–isn’t the place for it.  We would be just as adamant if a commander was talking about Mohammed or The Buddha in the workplace, trying to give others the idea that she or he may be biased in favor of those that believed as they did.  We would (and have) intervened in cases in which Atheists display open disdain towards the religions as well.  

You are also seeking to DENY those who do believe in a god to practice that faith by denying them the ability to learn of opportunities to do so.

No, we’re not.  We acknowledge the roles of chaplains in the military and simply ask that their programs be communicated through THEIR channels (that can go to all) and NOT directly from commanders.  Doing the latter could imply a religious bias by that commander, counter to the Constitution and the regs mentioned above. 

  

In the recent case of the chaplain who called a seminar ‘Lead Like Jesus’ you are overlooking the fact that whatever you believe about who Jesus is claimed to be, he demonstrated some admirable leadership qualities and methods that  would be readily recognised in the secular world.

I agree.  And, if the program had been communicated by the Christian chaplains THROUGH THEIR email account or published in their officers or sent to known participants in their programs, then we would’ve had no problem with this and have said so repeatedly.  The problem arose because the invitation CAME FROM THE COMMANDER and was sent out to all other commanders on the Naval Station.  If it had come from the chaplain alone and was not sent to the entire command list with the presumed endorsement of the commander, there wouldn’t have been a complaint.  Or, if there had been a complaint, we would’ve said, “No, they handled it the right way this time–it came from the chaplain alone without commander’s endorsement and only went to those that have participated in past chaplain programs in the past.

 

Thanks again for writing.  I hope I’ve clarified and educated.  And thanks for your service while in the US Navy.

Sincerely,

Marty France, PhD

Brigadier General, USAF (Retired)

MRFF Advisory Board Member 


Response from MRFF Board Member John Compere

On Feb 17, 2020, at 1:20 PM, John Compere  wrote:

(name withheld) first & foremost, thank you for your military service.
 
For your information, the US Constitution, American law & US Armed Forces regulations prohibit our military, as part of the US government, from promoting or endorsing a religion except in military chapels or military chaplain channels. Military chaplains may not proselytize their version of religion as official military sponsored religion in official military channels. That is the reason active duty military members (including Christians) complained & requested that it cease.
 
Thank you for your civility. However, your concern would be more appropriately addressed to those who disrespect & disregard our laws & regulations rather than at those of us who respect & request compliance with them.
Most Sincerely,
John Compere
Brigadier General, Judge Advocate General’s Corps, US Army (Retired)
Former Chief Judge, US Army Court of Military Review & US Army Legal Services Agency
Disabled American Veteran (Vietnam Era)
Board Member, Military Religious Freedom Foundation (composed of over 80% Christians)

On Feb 17, 2020, at 7:14 PM, Mike  wrote:
(name withheld),
I’ll try to be brief as this gets very tiring.
We’re well aware of what the Constitution says and the body of law that has developed from it. The separation of church and state, as it is called, is a position firmly established through many years of legal examination, challenge and explication.
You are free to talk about your religious faith and we are free to do the same. The government, however, is not.
For you to suggest you enjoy the freedom to “talk about” your religious faith “no matter where this occurs,” is simply wrong. You may certainly do so privately, of course, but you may not do so when in a position of authority and are speaking as part of the U.S; Government. One would expect that you, as a former LT in the US Navy, would know that. The laws and military regulations prohibiting such behavior are clear.
In order to protect your right to believe as you choose, our Founders determined, and legal experts over the decades have confirmed, you are best served by keeping the government out of the religion business.
We have no problem with your belief system or any other. Our job is to see to it that those in authority do not, whether intentionally or accidentally, promote or imply the promotion of any one faith, belief system or religion, over others.
For you or any others to assume, based on the fear that your own ox is being gored, that the MRFF opposes your belief system and is somehow intent on battling it or, as you suggest, silencing it, is simply absurd..
Per your fatuous defense of the chaplain who broadcast his “leadership” message, there are many whose names “would be readily recognized in the secular world.” Had Mohammad been his choice we’d have opposed it, and I suspect you and others wouldn’t be objecting.
Mike Farrell
(MRFF Board of Advisors)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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