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The Religious Rights of Those in Uniform - Examples of Impermissible Religious Conduct
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Article Index
The Religious Rights of Those in Uniform
Military Roles, Responsibilities and Rights
Examples of Permissible Religious Exercise
Examples of Impermissible Religious Conduct
Endnotes 1 thru 50
Endnotes 51 thru 110
Endnotes 111 thru 170
All Pages

Examples of Impermissible Religious Conduct

No Proselytizing Prayers or Disparaging Other Faiths
Prayers offered by chaplains at military ceremonies and other events are permissible as “a tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people of this country,”157 even when they are clearly sectarian in nature. Hence, Christian chaplains who believe that they should pray “in Jesus’ name” (or use a similar phrase like “through Jesus Christ our Lord”) may do so without violating the establishment clause, just as Jewish chaplains may invoke the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” and Muslim chaplains may invoke “Allah,” without violating the Constitution. No chaplain, however, may proselytize while praying at such ceremonies or disparage other faiths.158

Teaching the strictures and beliefs of one’s own faith, even when they contradict beliefs of another faith group, does not constitute disparaging the other faith, provided that such teaching occurs in a place where people freely gather on their own accord to receive such teaching. For example, a Christian chaplain’s affirmative teaching to Christians and/or other interested persons that Jesus is the only way to heaven, a core Christian teaching, does not disparage Islam, despite Islamic teachings about Jesus to the contrary, just as a Muslim chaplain’s affirmative teaching to Muslims and/or other interested persons that Mohammed is the last and greatest prophet of God, a core Islamic teaching not shared by Christians, does not disparage Christianity. Such faith-specific teaching is inappropriate, however, in settings where service members and their families are otherwise required to be present (i.e., where they are a captive audience).

No Compulsion in Belief or Practice

No official in the US government or armed forces—regardless of rank or station—has the right to compel or pressure any other person (1) to assent to any specific philosophy or religious belief or creed,159 (2) to participate in a religious worship service (such as forcing someone to attend a chapel worship service—unless that person is on duty, for example, serving as a member of an honor guard or a color guard at a funeral or other ceremony), or (3) to engage in a religious act (even so simple an act as being asked to join hands with others when a short prayer of blessing is said over a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal in the military dining facility).

Merely being present at a military ceremony or event where a military chaplain says a solemnizing prayer, however, does not violate the First Amendment, since no person is being compelled or pressured to assent to any belief, no person is being asked to participate in religious worship, and no person is being asked to engage in a religious act.160

Likewise, no official in the US Government or armed forces—regardless of rank or station—has the right to compel or pressure a chaplain (or any other person, such as a lay religious leader on a naval vessel or someone else asked to pray) to pray in any particular manner. Instead, the chaplain or other person should be free to follow his conscience and the traditions of his specific faith group and to pray as he deems appropriate in the circumstances. Allowing a person to pray as he desires does not violate the establishment clause, whereas directing how he prays or pressuring him to pray in a certain way does violate the establishment clause.161

No Forcing of Subordinates to Hear Unwanted Religious/Philosophic Message as Part of Captive Audience

No commander or leader may require a subordinate to attend or remain in a meeting or other gathering (i.e., create a captive audience) when the commander or leader intends to use the opportunity to convince those in attendance to adopt or assent to his religious faith or secular philosophy.

This should not be understood to preclude a commander or leader from being able to mention his religious faith or upbringing when introducing himself to subordinates for the first time.162 Such information informs the commander’s/ leader’s subordinates about himself and his standards and is permissible, pro- vided that the commander or leader makes clear that he will not judge his subordinates on anything other than that person’s duty performance, character, and integrity.

Last Updated on Thursday, 14 July 2011 19:13