Will Anti-Religious Military Policies Under Obama Change With Trump, Mattis?

Spiritual fitness is just as important as physical fitness in the military, says First Liberty's Deputy General Counsel and Director of Military Affairs.

By Nancy Flory Published on November 1, 2017

Religious hostility in the military is nothing new. But we’re seeing more of it, said First Liberty Institute’s Deputy General Counsel and Director of Military Affairs Mike Berry. In an interview with The Stream, Berry said he hopes that this will change under President Trump and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.

“This shouldn’t be something novel or new, this concept of promoting religious freedom within the military,” Berry explained. The Congress that established the Continental Army expected we would have “a healthy respect and promotion of religious freedom.” That has continued through the years. Religious freedom attacks have been rejected because the nation and its leaders understood that troops should be spiritually fit as they were physically fit. He believes we’ve lost sight of that in recent years.

Anti-religious Hostility

Part of the problem is straightforward. Berry said that the Department of Defense (DoD) officials are relying on Obama-era policies. Many of these policies do not have support in the law. They’ve spawned several cases of anti-Christian hostility against members of the military. Just a few of the most recent cases include:

  • An Airman relieved of duties because he wouldn’t agree with his Commander who told him objecting to same-sex marriage was against the law;
  • An Army Chaplain reprimanded after discussing how his faith helped him battle severe depression during a suicide prevention training class;
  • A Navy Chaplain punished because he expressed his belief about marriage and human sexuality;
  • A Marine court-martialed and discharged for conduct because she did not obey an order to remove Bible verses she posted in her work station;
  • An Air Force veteran who was assaulted and forcibly removed from a retirement ceremony because the speech he was invited to give contained “God”; and
  • A decorated Airman suspended from command because he did not sign an optional, unofficial spouse appreciation certificate for a male partner of a gay Airman because Bohannon’s Christian beliefs could not support “same-sex marriage.”

Turning Away Potential Recruits

Protecting the religious freedom of our troops, said Berry, is key to national security. When military people begin to suffer from combat stress or PTSD and cannot get the spiritual help they need, they leave. Berry said we’re losing our “best and brightest” in the military. Further, “we’re not able to attract new ones because they see the military as being hostile to people of faith.” People of faith are “far more likely” to join the military than other groups, according to statistics.

Berry is concerned that the military is turning away those very people of faith because they see the military as hostile. Then the number of able-bodied Americans who are serving in the military will dwindle. And that hurts the health, welfare and ability of those who carry out its mission.

Hope for Change

He hopes that Attorney General Sessions’ recent guidance on religious freedom will change things. He also hopes the leadership of Trump and Mattis will help.

Berry said that policy under President Trump and Secretary of Defense Mattis could promote, respect and tolerate religious diversity. “Traditional faith beliefs and faith values are not limited to Christianity. You’ve got Orthodox Jewish people serving in the military, Muslims, Buddhists, et cetera, they’re just as deserving of religious freedom as anybody else. And it’s very important that we protect religious freedom for all of them.

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Beyond that, Berry said the DoD needs to “clean up” the policies, memos and guidance from the previous administration. “That’s where I run into a lot of issues with these cases,” said Berry. “You have a lot of policies, memos and legal documents that have been left over” largely from the Obama administration. “So the DoD needs to clean up a lot of that and bring itself into compliance with the law.” One way to do that is by reissuing new guidance and policies that are supported by law not contrary to the law.

Berry said we need to honor our military members and provide spiritual and other support needed. “We hear a lot about the suicide epidemic in the military, the depression, PTSD, combat stress, et cetera. I think a lot of that is because we have really begun to ignore the spiritual and emotional and mental aspects of military service. When we start to get back to honoring those things and seeing them as valuable, that’s when we can start to turn the corner.”

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