In the past few years, the armed forces have been subjected to a deluge of shocking offenses against America’s first freedom. It was revealed last year that intelligence reports produced by the Department of Defense during the Bush Administration featured quotes from the Bible on their cover pages. Bibles have been shipped to deployed troops for distribution in Afghanistan. There have been reports of translators and interpreters being asked by military personnel to write “Jesus killed Mohammed” in Arabic on American tanks, resulting in vicious attacks on the convoys to which those tanks were assigned. Trijicon, a government contractor, was discovered to have inscribed Bible verses on the telescopic sights of firearms used by troops on active duty, without the knowledge of the American government or the soldiers using them. Shockwaves continue to reverberate nationwide in the aftermath of the religiously-motivated shooting at Fort Hood last fall.
Some of these offenses were perpetrated by independent forces outside the military. Some stemmed from a lack of communication about the proper place of religion and the protections of religious freedom within the military’s chain of command. Some were committed by personnel in the upper echelons of the military bureaucracy. One thing is clear: when it comes to religious freedom, the American military is not upholding the rights of its troops.
As a result, U.S. armed forces deployed abroad are at risk of being characterized as crusaders, rather than the champions of democracy they signed up to be. Not to mention, military personnel who hold beliefs that the government doesn’t recognize as mainstream or “the norm” are in danger of feeling ostracized even as they spend their waking hours defending their country.
This issue – religious freedom in the military and the necessity for American soldiers to enjoy the same freedom of belief as American civilians – is a new initiative and a focal point for Interfaith Alliance this year, and we’d like the help of our members and activists in developing it. Do you have a story to tell about an experience with religious freedom in the military? Let us know