WASHINGTON — Rep. Jim Bridenstine, joining a coalition of groups that say religious liberty in the military is under attack, said Tuesday that Christian soldiers should “have the right to live and act like Christians.”
Bridenstine, a Tulsa Republican and a former U.S. Navy pilot, said he and others weren't suggesting that every service member be a Christian or live and act like one, but that military policy should allow members of all faiths to express their beliefs.
The House last month approved a defense bill for the next fiscal year that would require the military to accommodate not just the beliefs of its troops but the actions and speech. The Senate has yet to debate its own defense bill, which has a similar provision.
At a Capitol Hill news conference, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said there was “a growing list of cases and incidents that point to the fact that religious liberty in our military is under attack.”
Perkins' group cited a list of incidents culled from media reports and other sources in which the display of religious symbols was prohibited or use of the Bible was restricted. Much of the Family Research Council report is a chronology of actions by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, led by Mikey Weinstein, to prevent service members from being compelled to engage in religious activity.
Rep. John Fleming, R-La., the author of the language approved by the House, said, “Those who have fought for religious liberties the most are the ones having their religious liberties taken from them.”
In a message to the House last month, the Obama administration strongly objected to the language.
“By limiting the discretion of commanders to address potentially problematic speech and actions within their units, this provision would have a significant adverse effect on good order, discipline, morale and mission accomplishment,” the White House message said.
Bridenstine quoted that message and compared it to a statement made in 1787 by George Washington that purity of morals was “highly conducive to order, subordination and success in the Army.”
“I don't know about you, but I think President Washington was a little more qualified to discuss military matters than our current president,” Bridenstine said.
Some participants at the news conference Tuesday suggested that President Barack Obama had vowed to veto the defense bill over the religious freedom provision. However, the provision was one of more than two dozen — ranging from weapons programs to base closures — that drew White House objections.
The Defense Department issued a statement in May saying that service members “can share their faith (evangelize) but must not force unwarranted, intrusive attempts to convert others of any faith or no faith to one's beliefs (proselytization).”
Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative organization, called “the assault on religious freedom” in the military an ongoing battle that didn't begin with the Obama administration and wouldn't end with it.