Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

More from Paul Horwitz on News Sources on Proselytizing in the Military

One of the great benefits, I am finding, of keeping comments open in connection with my posts is the wealth of thoughtful responses thereby invited by interested MoJ readers.  Here is another from Paul Horwitz:

I should say, as I have before, that I admire Patrick's work as an academic and his willingness to explore unstintingly in that work the implications of his understanding of a strong commitment to Catholic social thought for law and society, even where it causes real tensions between those commitments and what we think of as more conventional liberal or even American commitments. And let me restate, perhaps tediously, that I read Weinstein's columns and object to them.

I would not have added anything at all, but I wanted to say a word of caution, if I might, about Patrick's latest post, which I read, perhaps wrongly, as something of a way of saying that it helped vindicate his earlier concerns. (I have not read the David Gallicho post above but will try to do so when I can. Doubtless its information is better than mine.)

Patrick writes in that new post, in strong and definitive terms: "Men and women serving in the United States' military will be court-martialed for sharing the Gospel with one another. Details about the new policy remain to be disclosed, to be sure, but the intent and direction appear now to be undeniable." His post links to a story by "Breitbart News legal columnist Ken Klukowski," who is a "senior fellow for religious liberty with the Family Research Council and on faculty at Liberty University School of Law." That story is pretty poor, but really turns out to rely on a link to Fox, http://radio.foxnews.com/toddstarnes/top-stories/pentagon-religious-proselytizing-is-not-permitted.html, which, to be clear, is not by a line reporter for Fox News, but by a commentator for the network. That story contains three parts. Part one is about Weinstein consulting with the Pentagon, and part three contains reactions by various usual suspects. (Not that they're wrong or right; it's just that the reactions are not informational.) Part two says:

"The Pentagon confirmed to Fox News that Christian evangelism is against regulations. 'Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense,' LCDR Nate Christensen said in a written statement. He declined to say if any chaplains or service members had been prosecuted for such an offense. 'Court martials and non-judicial punishments are decided on a case-by-case basis and it would be inappropriate to speculate on the outcome in specific cases,' he said."

This appears to be the basis for the claims made in the Breitbart story and in Patrick's new post. What's not clear from this statement is: 1) the contours of this rule, ie. whether it applies to standard peer-to-peer proselytization, or proselytization outside official channels, or applies more narrowly to circumstances that might reasonably be considered to involve misuse of rank etc.; 2) whether the rule is new or whether the Pentagon spokesperson is just referring to existing policy; 3) whether the rule, new or old, has anything to do with Weinstein; 4) whether there have been any courts-martial for such conduct; 5) what kinds of circumstances would have to apply for a court-martial to even be considered; 6) whether there is anything like some kind of going-forward policy, new or old, of using courts-martial as a punishment for "sharing the Gospel with one another."

I don't think it matters for my point whether one believes there should be no proselytization ever, which appears to be Weinstein's view, or whether any and every form of proselytization ought to be immune from standard military rules, no matter the rank or circumstances involved, which seems to be the implication of Patrick's posts, or whether, as with any number of matters of military relations, this is a context-dependent matter, which would be my view. What matters to me is that there is not much evidence of a new policy and not much clarity about the policy itself. Moreover, the spokesman's response on courts-martials really seems to constitute more of an equivocation (meant here in a pretty neutral way, as a way of officially answering a question without saying much) than a positive statement. There's also not much, or at least not much clear, tying anything to Weinstein, although in fairness that wasn't the main point of Patrick's post. (It was, however, a main point of the Breitbart story.) There's just not much there there, and certainly, it seems to me, not enough to have justified the confident description given by Patrick.

Patrick is certainly justified in criticizing Weinstein and questioning the nature of his involvement with the Pentagon, even if it turns out to be pretty minor. But I think he would be much better off reading his sources much more carefully and avoiding the overconfident summaries he provides. I appreciate his fervor on this issue, but, as always, would encourage caution in basing definitive statements on the say-so of so-so news sources.


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A Google Search of "court martial religious" obtained the usual conservative sources. Eventually: http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/?p=26987 by Grant Gallicho.

Which links to the back/forth on this very blog. It excerpts a Pentagon statement:

"Pentagon statement:

The Department of Defense places a high value on the rights of members of the Military Services to observe the tenets of their respective religions and respects (and supports by its policy) the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs. The Department does not endorse any one religion or religious organization, and provides free access of religion for all members of the military services.

Court martials and non-judicial punishment are decided on case-by-case basis and it would be inappropriate to speculate on the outcome in future. However, religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense."

Grant contacted the DOD for clarification. A response:

"The U.S. Department of Defense has never and will never single out a particular religious group for persecution or prosecution. The Department makes reasonable accommodations for all religions and celebrates the religious diversity of our service members.

Service members can share their faith (evangelize), but must not force unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others of any faith or no faith to one’s beliefs (proselytization).

If a service member harasses another member on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, or disability, then the commander takes action based on the gravity of the occurrence. Likewise, when religious harassment complaints are reported, commanders take action based on the gravity of the occurrence on a case by case basis."

I take it that "unwanted, intrusive attempts" and "harassment" of this sort is what MIGHT lead to court martial in the appropriate case. This respects religious liberty and privacy.

Posted by: Joe | May 2, 2013 8:15:35 PM

[If this is deemed repetitive -- I see a reference that might be to these comments elsewhere -- please delete the above comment.]

Posted by: Joe | May 2, 2013 8:19:57 PM