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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 continued
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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

Two additional points of perspective need to be included in this section. First, we note that there exists in military professions a mutual responsibility for the moral development—or character development, in doctrinal language—of individual professionals. On the one hand, it is the responsibility of individual leaders within the profession of arms to integrate their personal morality, faith-based or not, with the ethic of their vocation such that they can always execute their military duties “without reservation,” as their oath states. In our own case at least, this was not too difficult, including for each of us who participated in multiple combat tours as leaders in the infantry. But we served at a different time, one where there was less concern than there is today about a Soldier’s personal morality, and there was not the undercurrent of hostility to religious expression that we address in this monograph.

On the other hand, as we will more fully explain in subsequent sections, the profession shares responsibility for a leader’s character development, including his or her successful integration of personal morality with professional ethic. It does so by ensuring that the culture and practices of the institution are not hostile to, or intimidating of, the leaders’ correct expressions of his or her personal morality, whether faith based or not. This is the “. . . no soldier should fear repercussions because of their personal beliefs . . .” of the ACLU discussed earlier. We will discuss this shared responsibility further in Section II.

Second, we note that, while we will address this issue of cultural intimidation within the context of America’s military professions, their ethics, and their leaders, it is also of current interest to other disciplines whose inquiries are germane to our discussion. In particular, among political theorists, moral philosophers, and military ethicists, there has been a lengthy debate over the applicability of the doctrine of religious restraint to decision-making within liberal democracies.

Originally construed to address the proper public role of religion—and more particularly the role religion should play as citizens and elected political officials employ their modicum of political power within a pluralistic, liberal democracy—the doctrine held that religion should not play a decisive role in their choices as to which candidates or policies to support. In short, it is fair to say the doctrine advocates, in essence, that citizens and their elected politicians privatize their religious convictions in their roles as voters or public servants.9

Over the years, the doctrine of religious restraint has remained contentious because many Americans do not accept a distinction between what is morally correct and what is religiously correct; to them, the two are not separable within their world view. They dispute the claim of the doctrine toward privatization of their religious views on the grounds that, in fulfilling their public roles, they (citizens and politicians) should not be denied the grounds (religious) on which to decide the best (morally best) policies and positions to take.

More recently, this debate has been extended to the applicability of the doctrine to the role of military professionals, and particularly to uniformed leaders with command authority. Of interest to our discussion here, two members of the faculty at the U.S. Naval Academy have recently argued against extension of the doctrine of religious restraint to military decision-making. They argue that, just as a citizen ought to support those public policies that he or she believes to be morally correct, so a soldier has a role-specific moral obligation to make only those professional judgments that he or she sincerely believes to be morally correct. And if, for a particular leader of religious faith, the most morally correct discretionary judgment is one based on his or her personal, faith-based morality, then it should be made on that basis. They offer a new doctrine:

Call this understanding The Doctrine of Conscientious Action (DCA): where the relevant legal and statutory constraints leave room for a soldier’s discretionary judgment, then he should use his discretion in a morally responsible manner. He should try to use his discretion in such a way as to get right moral, legal, and operational results. Given the lack of a principled normative difference between the religious and the moral, it follows that he should use his discretion to get the right religious result as well. Given the demographics of the United States, a ‘moral’ military is at one and the same time a religious military.10

As we shall see, given the increases in ethnic diversity and religious pluralism amid a larger trend of secularization that is American society today, the challenge to maintain within our military professions a culture in which personal moralities can be motivational, including those which are religion based, is a challenge of increasing intensity and importance. Our intent in this monograph, then, is to articulate perspectives, analyses, and recommendations that will help civilian and military leaders within the Army and the other Services address this challenge.

We will proceed from here in five sections: First, we will highlight further the growing culture of hostility toward religious expression within the Services. Second, narrowing the focus of the monograph to the Service we know best, the U.S. Army, we will place this issue in the context of the profession’s meritocratic ethic and its use by leaders of all ranks to self-police the military’s culture and behavior. Third, we will offer our perspective of how leaders within the Army whose personal morality is based on religious faith see this growing issue. Fourth, we will present a brief analysis of options to address the issue; and then, fifth, we will offer brief recommendations from an Army perspective.

Last Updated on Monday, 17 November 2014 09:22