church service on a military base

Defending Our Defenders



In the Bible, stories of wars are inextricably linked with religion. In addition to these battles merely being recorded in our sacred literature, the priests were actively involved with the war effort. Before the Israelite army could engage in warfare, the priests had to read the rules of what was ethically permitted in warfare and what was prohibited to those assembled to fight. These rules, frequently referred to as “just war theory,” primarily pertain to the treatment of enemy combatants. Today, however, we must look just as closely at how we treat our own soldiers. As the National Defense Reauthorization Act (NDAA) is being debated on the House floor, it is especially pertinent that we consider the conditions of our own military, and specifically their right to religious freedom.

While the news surrounding NDAA re-authorization has been largely dominated by policies around sexual assault and Guantanamo Bay, perhaps you’ve heard the spreading accounts of “attacks” on religious freedom in the military. These complaints of the curtailing of soldiers’ religious rights are actually the opposite; our enlisted service members are being exposed to proselytizing and blatant religious activities (for example: Bible verses written on guns). We must defend the rights of those who risk their lives to defend ours.

In addition to enforcing laws that already protect our service members from these encroachments, we must be on the watch for new laws that threaten to chip away at these rights, and there are more than a few amendments to the NDAA that do just that. One amendment, accepted into the bill last week, allows military chaplains to pray according to their faith “outside of a religious service.” This last phrase is the key—military chaplains should be allowed to lead prayer in their own faith tradition when they are in a worship service that people have elected to attend. However, when chaplains are serving as an “all-military” religious leader at a public event, they must use nonsectarian language to equally represent all of our service members.

At the same time, there are some encouraging amendments, which seek to increase rather than take away from our military’s religious freedoms. An amendment (that was unsuccessful) sought to “allow those certified by recognized nontheistic organizations to be appointed as officers in the chaplain core in order to fully serve nontheistic or nonreligious service members.”

Of course we support our service members’ right to practice their religion. It is when this right encroaches on others’ rights, though, that we draw the line. We must stand up for those who are sacrificing to protect our freedoms at home by protecting their freedoms in the military.

 

Image courtesy of NY Times

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Raechel Banks

About Raechel Banks

Raechel Banks is an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. She grew up in Dallas, TX, as a member of Temple Emanu-El. She recently graduated from Brandeis University.

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