Fox News' Sean Hannity and Todd Starnes portrayed restraints on proselytization as proof of the Obama administration's purported “war on religious liberty in the military,” despite the fact that military policy has long prohibited unwanted proselytization.
On the May 2 edition of his Fox News show, Hannity claimed that a Pentagon statement reiterating the military's longtime policy against proselytizing was proof of Obama's “war on religious liberty.” Starnes added that Christians were “under significant attack” by the Obama administration, under which “we have seen a Christian cleansing of the United States military.”
In fact, the U.S. military's anti-proselytization policy has been consistent among all religions, and it targets only disruptive activities. A statement released May 2 by Defense Department spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen clarified the military's policy that “members of the military are free to share their faith as long as they don't harass others.” Christensen continued:
“Service members can share their faith (evangelize), but must not force unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others of any faith or no faith to one's beliefs (proselytization),” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman, in an email.
“If a service member harasses another member on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, or disability, then the commander takes action based on the gravity of the occurrence. Likewise, when religious harassment complaints are reported, commanders take action based on the gravity of the occurrence on a case-by-case basis.”
Christensen said there are no plans to single out evangelical Christians for punishment, despite claims of activists.
“The U.S. Department of Defense has never and will never single out a particular religious group for persecution or prosecution. The Department makes reasonable accommodations for all religions and celebrates the religious diversity of our service members,” he said.
Further, a 2010 Congressional Research Service study on legal issues related to freedom of religious expression in the military noted that previous Supreme Court decisions state that military rules must “not benefit individuals with religious objections at the expense of individuals who are not claiming religious objections.” The study also emphasized the Court's definition of unconstitutional accommodation of religion stating:
[T]he government may only accommodate or facilitate, not favor or promote, religious exercise.
Starnes also claimed that Air Force guidelines against proselytization conflicted with the military's policy. In fact, the Air Force merely clarified its guidelines for the treatment of religion consistent with DOD policy, specifying that personnel “should confidently practice [their] own beliefs while respecting others whose viewpoints differ from [their] own.” The guidelines specifically prohibit both discrimination against and preferential treatment toward any religion:
2.11. Government Neutrality Regarding Religion. Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for an individual's free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. For example, they must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion. Commanders or supervisors who engage in such behavior may cause members to doubt their impartiality and objectivity. The potential result is a degradation of the unit's morale, good order, and discipline. Airmen, especially commanders and supervisors, must ensure that in exercising their right of religious free expression, they do not degrade morale, good order, and discipline in the Air Force or degrade the trust and confidence that the public has in the United States Air Force.
2.12. Free Exercise of Religion and Religious Accommodation. Supporting the right of free exercise of religion relates directly to the Air Force core values and the ability to maintain an effective team.
2.12.1. All Airmen are able to choose to practice their particular religion, or subscribe to no religious belief at all. You should confidently practice your own beliefs while respecting others whose viewpoints differ from your own.
2.12.2. Your right to practice your religious beliefs does not excuse you from complying with directives, instructions, and lawful orders; however, you may request religious accommodation. Requests can be denied based on military necessity. Commanders and supervisors at all levels are expected to ensure that requests for religious accommodation are dealt with fairly.