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Religious Liberty | The Pentagon moves to protect military members’ religious liberty
by Steve West
Posted 9/18/20, 02:09 pm

When Lance Cpl. Monifa Sterling posted favorite Bible verses in her workspace at Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base, her boss ordered her to remove them. “I don’t like those,” her supervisor said. “I don’t like their tone.” When Sterling declined, the military court-martialed her.

That was 2013, but her fate might be different today, thanks to the Pentagon’s new policy protecting religious liberty for service members.

The Department of Defense on Sept. 9 released new guidance requiring leaders in the armed forces to accommodate individual expressions of religious belief that do not compromise “military readiness, unit cohesion, good order and discipline, or health and safety.” The shift brings DOD policy in line with the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act: Leaders who override religious expression must do so in the least restrictive way possible and prove a compelling military interest.

The move follows a number of incidents of religious discrimination in the military. Earlier this summer, the Navy banned personnel from going to off-installation indoor religious services. It later revised the order to allow attendance as long as services followed social distancing and mask guidelines. Earlier this month, the Navy revised a decision to stop bringing in Catholic priests to cover the shortage of Catholic chaplains just 24 hours after the original order.

Mike Berry, general counsel for First Liberty, said the new guidance brings the military in line with President Donald Trump’s 2017 executive order declaring the executive branch would “vigorously enforce” protections for religious freedom.

Berry, who served a combat tour of duty in Afghanistan and remains a reservist, sent a letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper in May urging him to issue clear guidance protecting religious freedom for the troops. He specifically called out military officials who censored chaplains offering spiritual encouragement over livestream and social media during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other provisions of the new policy protect service members from suffering professionally or being denied benefits like promotions and training based on religious expression. And military chaplains don’t have to perform religious rites or activities that would compromise their beliefs. “This resets the playing field,” Berry said. “The default is now going to be in favor of religious liberty.”

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Steve West

Steve is a legal correspondent for WORLD. He is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, Wake Forest University School of Law, and N.C. State University. He worked for 34 years as a federal prosecutor and is now an attorney in private practice. Steve resides with his wife in Raleigh, N.C. Follow him on Twitter @slntplanet.

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    Posted: Fri, 09/18/2020 06:12 pm

    Amen! Thank you, Mike Berry and First Liberty, on behalf of fellow military members and veterans!  (I came to faith in Jesus while a reservist at a training site.) Thank you, Steve West, for reporting this!

  • Narissara
    Posted: Fri, 09/18/2020 09:43 pm

    Amen!  I honestly don't know how our servicemen and women can be so dedicated as to make the sacrifices necessary to defend their fellow citizens, even when they aren't always shown the gratitude thet deserve, without faith in a transcendent, loving and faithful God.  And thank you, Hannah for your service!

    Posted: Sat, 09/19/2020 12:31 pm

    This will work until the next Democrat occupies the White House. The answer to religious persecution in our arrmed services and in our country is not political.  Voting the right way is not a lasting solution.  The heart changing Gospel is.  Pray for revival in our country, and do what you can do to work toward that end.

    Posted: Sat, 09/19/2020 04:49 pm

    Thank you for your admonition. You have echoed Janey B. Cheaney: "First, we should be praying for our country, not just our candidate." There are many ways that we can work toward revival in our country. One way is through the political process -- electing godly servant leaders, in the tradition of our nation's founders (or even in the mold of people in the Bible, whom God elected). Also, as Janey admonishes, "We could be volunteering where we can to serve at the polls." For too long, I ignored the call to be an election judge. This year, I enlisted.