Wheaton ROTC draws fire over faith requirements for leaders
by Michael Cochrane
Posted 11/17/14, 12:34 pm
Mikey Weinstein, the founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), is known for his tenacious application of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause to stop what he believes to be unconstitutional proselytizing by evangelical Christians in the U.S. military.
Now, he’s seeking to apply the “no religious test” clause of the Constitution’s Article VI to a Christian college’s ROTC program. In an open letter to Secretary of the Army John McHugh, Weinstein complained that, in a request to the Army for an officer to be assigned as assistant professor of military science, Wheaton College stipulated the officer must be a Christian.
“While Wheaton is a private Christian college, and can impose a religious test on its own faculty members, it cannot impose that same religious test on the faculty members provided by the U.S. Army for its ROTC program, and the U.S. Army unequivocally cannot require a religious test for any ROTC assignment, regardless of the religious preference of the college at which that ROTC assignment exists,” Weinstein wrote in his Nov. 6 letter to the Pentagon.
The “no religious test” clause states, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” It has historically been applied in cases where individuals are seeking either elected or judicial office or positions within the executive branch. While Article VI prohibits the federal government from imposing any religious test, Weinstein’s interpretation appears to extend that prohibition to private organizations when they are selecting individuals already employed by the federal government—in this case, military officers.
“We have historically required that the lead professor of military science meet the same basic religious standards as the rest of our faculty, as this person is fully a member of our faculty and serves as the interface of the ROTC program with the rest of the Wheaton College academic program,” LaTonya Taylor, Wheaton’s spokeswoman, told me in an email statement. “Other ROTC instructors are not required to meet the same standard, but instead are expected minimally to understand and respect the religious mission of our institution.”
The lead professor of military science at Wheaton is an Army lieutenant colonel. According to the college’s website, the ROTC department has three other officers and four enlisted personnel on the faculty. Although Wheaton’s policy only requires the lead professor to be a Christian, the school’s request for an assistant professor also stipulated the faith requirement, according to Weinstein’s group. Wheaton did not respond to a request to clarify the discrepancy or verify the accuracy of Weinstein’s claim.
Taylor did confirm in her email that the U.S. Army is “conducting a holistic review of the ROTC agreements and policies in effect to ensure compliance with Army regulations and policies.” She said Wheaton supports the Army and will cooperate with the review.
The Army’s investigation will “not be limited to Wheaton College and would address whether other schools like Wheaton could also require that ROTC leadership adhere to specific religious faith,” wrote FOXNews columnist Todd Starnes, who added that the Army representative with whom he spoke denied the investigation had anything to do with Weinstein’s open letter.
Michael is a retired Defense Department engineer and former Army officer who is an adjunct professor of engineering management at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. He is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Michael on Twitter @MFCochrane.