WASHINGTON — Banning Bible gifts at a military hospital, listing evangelical Christians, Catholics and Jews as religious extremists, and the harassment of an Air Force chaplain indicates ongoing bias at the Pentagon that one Colorado lawmaker is working to end.
“There is a growing, troubling pattern of religious discrimination against our men and women in arms,” Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn said Monday during a speech on the House floor.
The examples of religious persecution that have recently surfaced include a power point presentation for equal opportunity training at an Army reserve unit in Pennsylvania that included some Christians and Jews as religious extremists on a list with al Qaeda, Hamas, Sunni Muslims, and the Ku Klux Klan.
At the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center near Washington, D.C. where injured service members are treated, visitors were prohibited from bringing Bibles or other religious materials to patients.
Additionally, Air Force Lt. Col. Kenneth Reyes, a Christian chaplain stationed in Alaska, wrote an essay called “No Atheists in Foxholes: Chaplains Gave All in World War II” that was posted on the base’s web site.
The article was removed hours later after the Military Religious Freedom Foundation complained the article was “faith-based hate” and violated Pentagon policy.
The title referred to a speech by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who said, “In battle, they learned a great truth – that there are no atheists in the foxholes.”
Lamborn said the Pentagon is drafting new religious freedom policies and regulations, and is doing so in consultation with an atheist who once characterized Christians as “monsters who terrorize their fellow Americans who are diehard enemies on the United States Constitution.”
“This same radical atheist is calling on the Pentagon to prosecute military chaplains who share their faith with service members, claiming that even speaking about your Christian faith amounts to ‘unconstitutional religious proselytizing and oppression,’” Lamborn said.
In a May 3 letter to Defense Secretary Charles Hagel, Lamborn asked for assurances that service members’ religious freedoms are protected, and asked for the names of outside groups consulting with the military on revisions to the department’s regulations on religious freedoms.
Acting Under Secretary of Defense Jessica Wright responded on June 24 that the Pentagon would be working until the end of this year to revise two key regulations on religious freedom.
Wright said that Defense Department officials “have not previously consulted with any non-military organizations nor intend to do so in the future about the revisions of these instructions.”
Congress deliberately included religious freedom protections in the National Defense Authorization Act to address the growing pattern of hostility, and to protect Constitutional rights of religious freedom for service members as well as chaplains, Lamborn said.
“This is an affront to our civil liberties and demeaning to this nation that has always believed in the First Amendment freedom of self expression,” Lamborn said.
“Religious freedom is an integral part of America’s greatness and has been a pillar of our nation from the very beginning. We must remain firmly committed to defending religious freedom,” Lamborn said.