This column by ACRU Senior Legal Analyst Ken Klukowski was published May 3, 2013 on Breitbart.com.
Pentagon personnel responded to Breitbart News‘ report about court-martialing service members who share their faith in the military, which the Pentagon confirmed on May 1, and the Air Force on May 2 separately confirmed a second time.
Now the Pentagon claims the opposite. But these new statements instead only compound the problem, as the Pentagon’s new definitions for terms squarely contradict what the dictionary says those terms mean. All this has taken place as the first flag officer in the military has stepped forward to defy the unconstitutional policy.
In an official statement yesterday, Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a spokesman for the Pentagon’s Defense Press Office, responded to Breitbart News‘ reports by saying, “Service members can share their faith (evangelize), but must not force unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others of any faith to one’s beliefs (proselytization).”
Unfortunately for the Obama administration’s leaders in the Pentagon, those definitions are absurdly false, and only confirm a central concern in the earlier columns. These definitions of evangelizing and proselytizing are contradicted by (1) general dictionaries, (2) legal dictionaries, and (3) theological dictionaries. We have not located any dictionary that supports the Pentagon’s novel and unprecedented definitions for these well-known words.
Evidently it all depends on what the meaning of the word “is” is, which is a debate the country thought was resolved in 2000. Even so, when trying to say the press is wrong, don’t do it by inventing new definitions that anyone with a sixth-grade education and access to a dictionary can confirm are utterly false.
The words “evangelize” and “proselytize” have identical meanings when referring to Christians. So to make proselyting illegal is to make evangelizing illegal.
The dictionary defines “evangelize” as “to convert to Christianity,” or “to preach the [Christian] gospel.” Likewise, the dictionary defines “proselytize” as “to convert or attempt to convert.” They both mean sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Two things to note. First, “evangelizing” means to try to persuade your listener to become a Christian, which the Pentagon just reaffirmed for the second time in two days is forbidden in the military. Second, contrary to the Obama-Holder DoD’s definition, “proselytizing” carries no connotation whatsoever of “force,” or “intrusive attempts” to do anything.
Everyone can agree that no military commander should use his authority to coerce a subordinate to adopt religious views that violate the subordinate’s conscience. But that suggestion is a strawman argument, as “proselytizing” is something entirely different.
Not only that, but this suggestion is further confirmed as false because then our earlier reports discussing chaplains would be irrelevant. An infantry sergeant answers to an infantry lieutenant, who answers to an infantry captain, and so on up to the general commanding the infantry division.
So why was the Washington Post reporting that the Pentagon’s meeting(s) with Weinstein discussed chaplains being court martialed (that is–criminally prosecuted under military law) for sharing the gospel with a fellow service-member? The chaplain is not in the chain of command. The chaplain has no authority with which to coerce the other service member.
Instead, it looks like the Obama-Hagel administration was caught red-handed contemplating policies that violate the rights of American service members, and they are literally attempting to rewrite the dictionary through a press release to offer a disingenuous explanation of why things are not as disturbing as they appear.
A second problem for the Obama administration is this proposed new rule makes it illegal for millions of Americans to serve in the military in a manner consistent with their faith. Millions of Americans who call themselves Christians–including Evangelicals, devout Catholics, and observant Mormons–believe they are required by Matthew 28 in the Bible to share the gospel with other people.
This is to be done respectfully and peacefully, at appropriate times and in an appropriate manner, but it must be done when such opportunities present themselves. To say that sharing the gospel is a crime under military law (as we reported, Weinstein in his own words calls it an act of “treason” that should be “punished”–right after calling those who do so “monsters” and “enemies” of the Constitution), is to say that tens of millions of Americans are not allowed to serve in our military. And those already serving could be prosecuted for a crime and perhaps expelled from the military.
The third problem is that it is unconstitutional. When someone joins the military their First Amendment rights are diminished, but they are not eradicated. A solider cannot write an op-ed criticizing the Commander-in-Chief, but he can live and share his faith with others. Evangelizing does not disrupt discipline and good order in the military, and therefore the Constitution does not permit the military to forbid it.
Military officers take an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” There are honorable Christian service members who will not in good conscience be able to abide by this unconstitutional and unconscionable decree.
And this week it began. Rear Adm. William D. Lee of the Coast Guard said that he will “defy any efforts to stop military personnel from openly sharing their Christian faith.” Told that sharing the gospel is crossing the line, Lee said, “I’m so glad we’ve crossed that line so many times.” He then pledged to exercise his “right under the Constitution to tell a young man that there is hope.”
The U.S. military is the most noble and honorable institution in America. Officers like Rear Adm. Lee are an essential part of making it so. Congress should step forward to enact whatever legislation is needed to safeguard their rights, as they continue to protect ours.