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Religious Liberty Being Denied To Our Armed Forces!

Visit Our Website October 29, 2013
Dear Friends,It seems like every week lately there’s a new story in the news about how the United States Armed Forces is showing absolute disrespect for its own service members’ religious liberty.

Take these three recent examples:

•       The U.S. Army recently told soldiers at a pre-deployment training at Fort Hood that they could be court-martialed for giving financial support to evangelical Christian groups – they are extremist groups as far as the Army is apparently concerned.

 

•       The Armed Forces shut down Catholic masses and threatened contract priests with arrest if they volunteered their time to minister to service members during this month’s government shutdown.

 

•       An Air Force spokeswoman made a statement just a few months ago that “Air Force members are free to express their personal religious beliefs as long as it does not make others uncomfortable.”   Violations would result in disciplinary action.

 

And, then, of course, there’s the fact that the White House told Congress that it essentially wouldn’t enforce religious liberty in the Armed Services.

You remember that, don’t you?  Congress passed a provision in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act to protect military chaplains from being forced to “perform any rite, ritual, or ceremony that is contrary to [their] conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs.”

When President Obama signed the Act into law he all but said that his Administration planned to ignore it.  In an official statement, the President called the provision, “unnecessary and ill-advised,” and continued:

“The Secretary of Defense will ensure that the implementing regulations do not permit or condone discriminatory actions.… My Administration remains fully committed to continuing the successful implementation of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and to protecting the rights of gay and lesbian service members; [this provision] will not alter that.”

Now, for those of us at the Becket Fund, this is like déjà vu all over again.  And, that’s why your continued support is so important.

One of our earliest cases back in the 1990s involved defending Fr. Rigdon, a Catholic chaplain, who along with all other chaplains, faced a gag order because they wanted to preach in support of a partial-birth abortion ban.

I’m happy to say that we won that case!  The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upheld the religious liberty and speech rights of military chaplains.  The court said that it was not for the government to say what’s an important part of a person’s faith and what’s not.  The court upheld the “chaplains’ right to autonomy in determining the religious content of their sermons.”

Over the past year, it’s become apparent that the Obama Administration is prepared to challenge the standard set by that court fifteen years ago.

For instance, last year, when Catholic priests across the country were asked by the Church to read an open letter to their parishioners at mass – a letter that condemned the HHS Mandate, by the way  – Catholic Army chaplains were initially forbidden from doing so.

Archbishop Timothy Broglio eventually negotiated with the Secretary of the Army John McHugh so that military priests could read the letter another week – but only after the Secretary stripped the letter of a line reading, “We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law.”

Men and women of faith who protect our rights through the armed forces shouldn’t lose their right to religious liberty because they heed the call to serve.  You can bet that we’ll be keeping an eagle eye out for our troops here at the Becket Fund.

Sincerely,

Kristina Arriaga
Executive Director

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