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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? - Background & Context
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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

Background and Context
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." —First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. —Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18, United Nations, 1948

The two epigraphs above provide context for this monograph. As they indicate, Americans are privileged, indeed. They enjoy human rights and history teaches us that, elsewhere in the world, others have only aspired to this level of privilege. Among those, as the First Amendment to our Constitution states, they are free to enjoy the priceless liberty of conscience, and with it, the choice of what belief system to follow, religious or nonreligious. Further, as the second epigraph notes, this is not just an American ideal; it is our aspiration in concert with like-minded nations for all of mankind.

Soldiers6 of the nation’s military professions have sacrificed much blood, indeed life, over the two-plus centuries of the Republic’s existence to safeguard its liberty, and with it, the exercise by its citizens of these individual liberties of conscience and belief, including those that are founded on religion. They have also sacrificed in the cause of extending these liberties to citizens of other nations, increasingly so in the last several decades.    Because of these sacrifices, military professionals have an abiding interest in the exercise of these liberties, both by themselves and those
they defend.

However, it is also true that soldiers in service to the Republic give up some of their rights as American citizens for the necessities of an effective and ethical military profession. The regulations of the Departments of Defense (DoD) and the Army state the applicable policies:

  • The U.S. Constitution proscribes Congress from enacting any law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. 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. It is DoD policy that requests for accommodation of religious practices should be approved by commanders when accommodation will not have an adverse impact on mission accomplishment, military readiness, unit cohesion, standards, or discipline. —Department of Defense Instruction Number 1300.17, February 10, 20097
  • The Army places a high value on the rights of its Soldiers to observe tenets of their respective religious faiths. The Army will approve requests for accommodation of religious practices unless accommodation will have an adverse impact on unit readiness, individual readiness, unit cohesion, morale, discipline, safety, and/or health. As used in this regulation, these factors will be referred to individually and collectively as ‘military necessity’ unless otherwise stated. Accommodation of a Soldier’s religious practices must be examined against military necessity and cannot be guaranteed at all times. —Army Regulation 600-20, Army Command Policy, September 2012, para 5–6, Accommodating religious practices8

So the enduring challenge facing the leaders of the Army and the other Services is how to balance the restrictions placed on soldiers’ practice of their liberties—due to what the Army in its regulation calls “military necessity”—with their constitutional rights to hold religious beliefs as the basis of their personal morality and to exercise those beliefs as acts of conscience. How do the Stewards of the Professions establish that necessary balance within the professions’ cultures such that uniformed leaders actually lead with confidence and sensitivity on issues of religion and its expression within their units and commands? Serving under oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” it is logical that young professionals expect their leaders to achieve such balance within the culture of the military professions in which they have volunteered to serve.

Last Updated on Monday, 17 November 2014 09:22