This column by ACRU Senior Legal Analyst Ken Klukowski was published May 13, 2013 on Breitbart.com.
Following 59 Members of Congress sending a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel regarding Pentagon officials meeting with an anti-Christian extremist, another group of 72 House Members has sent a second wide-ranging letter, exploring whether these infringements on religious liberty violate both federal law and the Constitution.
The first letter demanded that Hagel explain why Pentagon brass met with anti-Christian extremist Mikey Weinstein. It highlighted various disturbing statements Weinstein has made–most of which were first reported by Breitbart News–such as calling Christians “monsters,” and claiming sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ an act of “treason” and equating it with “rape.”
Now a second letter has gone to Hagel, co-sponsored by Congressmen Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Doug Lamborn (R-CO). The letter reminds Hagel that–as Breitbart News previously reported–Congress enacted Section 533 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to protect freedom of religious belief and conscience for all men and women serving in uniform, with a special focus on military chaplains.
Upon signing the NDAA into law, President Obama said the conscience protections were “unnecessary and ill-advised.” This statement, coupled with recent events, raises concerns that the military is developing a culture that is hostile to religion. A recently revealed power point presentation used in equal opportunity training in an Army reserve unit in Pennsylvania included evangelical Christians, Catholics, Mormons, Sunni Muslims, and some Jews on a list of religious extremist groups alongside groups like Al Qaeda and Hamas. A memo regarding visitation policies at Walter Reed issued in December 2011 prohibited visitors from bringing Bibles and other religious materials on the premises. A particularly concerning memorandum issued on September 1, 2011, General Norton A. Schwartz prohibited commanders from notifying Airmen about Chaplain Corps programs, stating that only Air Force chaplains are trained to provide leadership on religious matters.
This is the same Gen. Schwartz who first met with Weinstein just weeks after President Barack Obama was sworn into office in 2009. The letter continues:
As you acknowledged, these assaults should not be happening. Congress deliberately included religious freedom protections in the NDAA to address this growing pattern of hostility and to protect the constitutionally guaranteed right of religious freedom for our servicemembers and chaplains.
These congressmen reiterate the concerns expressed by the first letter earlier Monday, writing, “We are deeply concerned that the Department of Defense may have consulted with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an organization that is focused on silencing religious freedom in the military.”
The letter closes with, “We request the names of all organizations you are consulting in drafting regulations to comply with the NDAA and the date by which you expect to have the regulating protecting conscience protections, as called for under the law, finalized and implemented.”
Millions of Americans will be keenly interested in learning the answers to these questions.
[To read the letter in its entirety, click here for the original article.]
Editor’s Note: The original press release from Rep. Scalise claimed that 56 members of Congress signed the letter; the correct number is now 72 members of Congress. This piece has been updated to reflect that change.