Fox News radio host Todd Starnes used a story about a soldier disobeying lawful orders to falsely claim that the military is persecuting Christian service members for their beliefs, continuing his misguided campaign against nonexistent “culture wars.”
Master Sgt. Nathan Sommers was charged and found guilty of three Article 15 charges after he disobeyed lawful orders by making political statements while in uniform. Sommers was counseled on separate occasions for bumper stickers and tweets that attacked President Obama and reading political literature while in uniform. Starnes used the case to claim that the military is prosecuting service members for their religious beliefs in an article titled, “Army Reprimands Soldier Under Fire for Religious Beliefs.” Starnes then used his platform to allow Sommers' lawyer John Bennett Wells and Family Research Council's Jerry Boykin to push the same deceptive claim. Wells claimed that the timing of the prosecution seemed strange and suspicious, adding that “it looks like a graduated attempt to build a case against him on some really ridiculous charges.” FRC's Boykin went further:
Boykin said the issue is whether the chain of command would be doing this if it were not for his outspoken Christian faith and his unwillingness to compromise on what he believes.
“It seems to me that the chain of command has failed to deter him from his beliefs and has resorted to this step now,” he said.
But Sommers was charged for failing to carry out a lawful order, failing to go to an appointed place of duty, and making a false statement, all punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). An official military document on the case also addressed Sommers' political statements:
“As a Soldier you must be cognizant of the fact that your statements can be perceived by the general public and other service members to be of a nature bordering on disrespect to the President of the United States,” the document stated.
Blake Page of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation summarized Sommers' case, explaining, “This story is a monumental admission by conservatives that they cannot discern the difference between religion and politics.” Page continued:
He was abruptly advised that what he was doing was criminal and would be reported if he did not stop. The senior officer acknowledged that what he was doing was illegal, and ceased his insubordination. This is not a religious issue. Yet when Master Sergeant Sommers was censored for his “NObama” bumper sticker and for tweeting “In honor of DADT repeal, and Obama/Holder's refusal to enforce DOMA act, I'm serving Chick-fil-A at my MSG promo reception for Army today” he cried foul.
This is not the first time Starnes has cried “culture war” on religion in the military. On Fox's Hannity, Starnes baselessly claimed that the Obama administration was leading a “Christian cleansing” of the military; he also claimed that the accidental blockage of a religious website by the military was part of a “religious hostility within the Pentagon.”