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A Soldier's Morality, Religion, and Our Professional Ethic: Does the Army's Culture Facilitate Integration, Character Development, and Trust in the Profession? - Why Not Just Let Soldiers of Religious Faith Leave the Army?
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Article Index
A Soldier's Morality, Religion, and Our Professional Ethic: Does the Army's Culture Facilitate Integration, Character Development, and Trust in the Profession?
Background & Context
Background & Context continued
The Evolving Culture of Hostility toward Religious Presence and Expression
Evolving Culture of Hostility continued
The Army's Professional Ethic
Army's Professional Ethic continued
The Challenge and Opportunities to the Leader of Faith
Challenge & Opportunities continued
Opportunities for Leaders of Religious Faith
Why Not Just Let Soldiers of Religious Faith Leave the Army?
All Pages

Why Not Just Let Soldiers of Religious Faith Leave the Army?

Our first response to this question is because it is right that the U.S. Army be an institution that as closely as possible reflects the values of the nation it serves. Stated differently, this is the issue of political legitimacy of the institution—Does the Army accurately reflect within its ranks the society that trusts it for security?39 One of the most fundamental of those values is our freedom of belief and conscience and the exercise of conscience which often springs from, and is informed by, a religious faith. American citizens should be free, and feel free, to join the Army, expecting rightly that if their personal morality is faith-based, that fact is not in any way a hindrance to service. When such freedoms are to be restricted by the Army for “military necessity” (see the discussion in the Background section), there should be strong, compelling reasons for doing so, reasons that go beyond current social and cultural trends or the fear that one Soldier’s beliefs may be in conflict with the beliefs or practices of another Soldier.40

Our second response is that the Army has now, once again, the opportunity to lead our nation. In the midst of the stifling cultural wars within American society, wars of mutual disrespect toward citizens who have strong differences on issues that matter to them, the Army can set an example as it has consistently—if imperfectly—done on other issues. The example should be that, for purposes of military effectiveness, the Army is and will continue to be a professional meritocracy. In such a noble institution, Soldiers work together, treat each other with dignity and respect, openly express their deeply held views, and, regardless of differences, evaluate each others’ performances based on the certifications and other standards of the profession, not on their views about ideas and practices not directly related to those duties. This is pluralism, multiculturalism, and diversity rightly leveraged for military effectiveness!

Further, we believe that a culture increasingly hostile toward religious expression will eventually cause some number of good Soldiers of all ranks to leave the Army. A Soldier seriously committed to his or her personal morality, whether grounded in a religious faith or not, is prone more than he or she would otherwise be to live up to the high ethical ideals of the Army Profession not in spite of, but because of his or her personal convictions. For those who ground their convictions in the tenets of the major religions, virtually all emphasize the values of altruism (selfless service); truth-telling; integrity; respect for others; personal humility; moral and physical courage; to mention only some of the personal virtues valuable, indeed necessary, in military professions.

As most all behaviorists agree (if they agree on anything), while it is sometimes difficult to know what is right, it is always far more difficult to do what is right. It is certainly true that the strength of character of an Army professional is always on display in the crucible of making decisions and taking actions to implement those decisions. In such situations, Soldiers of religious faith are motivated more by aspiration than by obligation; they have a strong intrinsic motivation, which reinforces that of the military, to be the leader the Services need them to be and whose actions manifest their personal character with integrity. Religious ethics, then, are a strong reinforcer of military ethics. In our view, it will be self-defeating for the Army to cause men and women imbued with this reinforcing ethical framework to leave the Army because it allowed a culture hostile or intimidating to their beliefs, conscience, and expression of those beliefs.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it is simply indisputable that religion is often a key element in the emotional and psychological health of individual Soldiers. While the Army and the other Services have recently struggled with just how to understand and present this spiritual domain of the human, moral essence in all Soldiers, its force in the strength of their personal character and resilience, both on the battlefield and thereafter, is not questioned.41 As one noted researcher in this field recently concluded, “Religion is a tremendous source of strength, inspiration, wisdom, peace, and purpose for many people and religious speech is a vital component of the practice
of religion.”42

Last Updated on Monday, 17 November 2014 09:22