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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? - The Evolving Culture of Hostility toward Religious Presence and Expression
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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

I. The Evolving Culture of Hostility toward Religious Presence and Expression
As discussed briefly in the introduction, we believe that over the past two decades, coincident with the growing secularization of American society, the culture of our Armed Services has become more hostile to many things religious, including religious expression by individuals in uniform and the application of any sort of religious basis for decision-making. This has created, in perception or reality, a culture hostile to, and perhaps even intimidating for, serving soldiers of religious faith.

We also note that this trend of increasing hostility to religious expression within our Armed Services is not an isolated trend and is not surprising since there are at least three well-recognized societal trends that are occurring along with it:11 First, the general secularization of American society and the cultural wars that this has created over the past several decades; second, the activism of several legal advocacy groups specifically hostile to religious expression within the military; and third, the advancement of America’s cultural wars into the military, particularly by political advocates/reformers focused on individual issues.

Turning now to examples of such hostility to religious expression, we offer the following instances:12

September 2011: Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz issued a Service-wide memo entitled, “Maintaining Government Neutrality Regarding Religion.”It states, “Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for an individual’s free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs and its prohibition against governmental establishment of religion.” For example, they must avoid the “actual or apparent” use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates. “Commanders . . . who engage in such behavior may cause members to doubt their impartiality and objectivity. The potential result is a degradation of the unit’s morale, good order and discipline.” General Schwartz also warned commanders against open support of chaplain-run events, stating that they “must refrain from appearing to officially endorse religion generally or any particular religion. Therefore, I expect chaplains, not commanders, to notify Airmen of Chaplain Corps programs.”13 Finally, Schwartz advised anyone who has concerns “involving the preservation of government neutrality regarding religious beliefs” to contact a military attorney.

From our perspective, the threatening tone of the final comment is obvious. So is the excessive concern over “apparent” use of commanders’ positions to promote their religious beliefs, and the concern that commanders who are known to be religious may, more than those with other world views, cause subordinates to doubt their impartiality and objectivity. Further, we believe that by precluding commanders from even speaking about the “Chaplain Corps programs” in their own units, such activities, as well as the silenced commanders, are marginalized in the eyes of the very Airmen they have sworn to lead and develop. Ironically, commanders may advertise, and indeed encourage attendance at any  number of voluntary functions but not those of a religious nature, even in cases where they personally believe the function would be desired by, and could be of significant developmental benefit to, many of their Airmen. Such “over the top” reactions by senior military leaders to the cultural intimidation they are facing serve, sadly, as the basis for construal by junior professionals that if they “lead-up” in such situations, they will be seen as insubordinate. Intimidation begets intimidation, eviscerating professional culture.

September 2011: Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the leading medical institution for the U.S. Armed Forces, issued an official patient and visitor policy banning Bibles (to our understanding the ban was imposed only on Bibles, rather than such authoritative writings of all major faith groups). It stated, “No religious items (i.e., Bibles, reading material, and/or artifacts) are allowed to be given away or used during a visit.” The policy was revoked after a political firestorm erupted in the House of Representatives,14 but its intent cannot be missed. Neither can the fact that such intent runs utterly contrary to decades of understanding within the military professions of the positive role that religion and its various expressions play in the fitness of soldiers for mortal combat and subsequent recovery from combat-related sacrifices.15

Last Updated on Monday, 17 November 2014 09:22