Twenty members of Congress have signed a letter urging Secretary of Defence Mark Esper to protect Christian military personnel under threat from a secular legal organization that’s calling on the military to punish them for sharing their Christian faith. The Republican House members have signed a letter asking the Pentagon to protect the religious liberty of service members from the demands of an “anti-religion” group. “Many in our Armed Forces are leaning on their faith in this unprecedented hour,” the letter reads. “We trust that the Department of Defence and the military itself will recognize the needs of our troops, and protect their religious liberties from an organization bent on removing faith from the U.S. military.”
The letter calls on Esper to protect the career of Col. Moon H. Kim, the command chaplain of U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys in South Korea. Kim faced backlash after he shared John Piper’s book, Coronavirus and Christ, with fellow chaplains in an email. The lawmakers are also calling for the protection of Air Force Lt. Col. David McGraw, who for 8 weeks led worship services from the balcony of his military housing unit in Germany. Both Kim’s and McGraw’s actions are being condemned by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), which pushes for a strict separation of church and state within the military. MRFF has called for McGraw and Kim to be subject to a general court-martial for their actions of sharing their faith.
In addressing Kim’s situation, the letter states that the chaplain has made “a selfless effort to help his colleagues during this global health crisis” but is “now being subject to a review that could harm his career and reputation.” “Given the Federal law protecting religious speech, it is clear that Col. Kim should not and cannot be disciplined for his email,” the congress members warned. Kim sent an email to 35 other chaplains informing them that Piper’s book has helped him refocus his sacred calling during the pandemic. He shared a PDF file of the book in hopes it would help the other chaplains in their walks as well. MRFF and the chaplains it represents took offense to a chapter of Piper’s book that touched on whether the coronavirus was God’s judgment on sin.
The lawmakers decried the fact that the MRFF was successful in pressuring leaders at U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart to force McGraw to move his Sunday balcony services to a different location. “The command at USAG Stuttgart unlawfully halted Lt. Col. McGraw’s services to appease an anti-faith organization” the lawmakers argued. “Lt. Col. McGraw should be allowed to continue his Sunday services immediately.” The lawmakers also came to the defence of Army chaplains in New York who were the subjects of an MRFF complaint about videos they posted to command’s official Facebook page encouraging prayer during the coronavirus pandemic. After the MRFF complaint, their videos were quickly removed from the official Facebook page of the Brigade.
“Given the limitations on gatherings due to the coronavirus, military chaplains are turning to digital opportunities to fulfil their obligations to their fellow servicemen and women,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. The lawmakers disclosed that the Army Chaplain Corps released guidance on April 24 related to the use of social media to publicize religious or spiritual content. According to the letter, the Army Chaplain Corps April 24 guidance related to the use of social media detailed that the Chaplains have “broad latitude to use diverse means of social media to broadcast religious services, messages, and educational materials.”
The guidance also explained that Army policy does not prohibit ‘evangelizing’ or ‘proselytizing’ … so long as they are communicated in a manner avoiding the appearance of official Army endorsement or promotion of the particular religious viewpoint or group,” the Army guidance explained, according to the lawmakers. MRFF argues that the actions of the service members do appear to be an Army endorsement or promotion of a particular religious viewpoint, namely evangelical Christianity. The lawmakers warned in their letter to Esper that the Department of Defense and the Army have been “far too quick to restrict the religious freedom of chaplains and the service members they serve as a result of this group’s attacks.”
“Far too often, commanders react in a knee-jerk fashion to loud complaints from vocal anti-religion activists only to have their decisions immediately overturned upon scrutiny, but often only after congressional intervention pressing the Services to adhere to their own regulations, let alone the Constitution,” the lawmakers conclude. “This must end.” The First Liberty Institute, a legal non-profit that specializes in religious freedom cases, sent a letter to Esper in support of the service members targeted by MRFF. First Liberty argued that the First Amendment protects the service members’ actions. “We urge you to issue clear Department of Defence guidance, consistent with Congress’ directive, that strongly protects religious freedom within the Services”.
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