By Chaplain (Lt. Col.) David Berube, 102nd Intelligence Wing Chaplain
/ Published May 30, 2013
OTIS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mass. -- You have probably seen or heard about recent stories circulating on the Internet regarding Department of Defense policy on religious freedom in the military. According to these stories, policy is changing so that military members who share their faith and beliefs with others will be court-martialed. These stories are not true. It appears several stories got combined - a story about freedom of religion in the military, a story about how courts martial work, and a story about a well-known Atheist's meeting with Air Force leaders. The resulting "frankenstory" spawned misinformation that spun out of control.
Since this all surfaced, the Department of Defense has restated its longstanding policy, in keeping with the US Constitution, that Freedom of Religion is supported and protected, even in the military. Military members are free to share their religious or non-religious moral beliefs with each other, just like all other Americans. And, like all other Americans, military members should exercise our religious freedom responsibly in order to respect others' rights as well as our own. As we talk about in our yearly refresher training, sharing what we believe is allowed, while forcing our beliefs on others (proselytizing) is not.
If you are inclined to have a conversation with another military member about your religious faith or non-religious moral beliefs, here are some preliminary questions to keep in mind to help ensure you keep your rights, and the other person's rights, safe:
Is this conversation voluntary? If you are talking with a peer, and the other person agrees to talk about moral or religious beliefs, you're good to go. If you are a supervisor, talking with a subordinate, you need to be careful. Just because you feel the sharing is voluntary doesn't necessarily mean your subordinate does. Anytime we have a conversation sharing our core moral or religious beliefs it's critical we're sharing with a willing partner. Clarifying this single point goes a long way to keeping us on the right side of our, and others', religious freedoms.
Is this conversation a dialog? If you share moral or religious ideas and opinions with others, listening as well as talking, that's good. If you begin to hear yourself lecturing and debating so much that the other person can't get a word into the conversation, reevaluate whether you are sharing or could be perceived as proselytizing. When sharing anything that is a core belief it is important we monitor ourselves to be sure we allow the others in the conversation the respect and space to share as well.
Is this conversation "official"? If you are contemplating presenting your religious or non-religious belief system in the context of a meeting that is non-religious in nature, don't. Especially if you are leading the meeting, you may give the impression your opinions are official policy. Leave conversations about personal beliefs outside official meetings and you'll save yourself a lot of trouble. Keeping our personal religious and moral beliefs off the table of official conversations is another way we protect religious freedom for all military members.
The Framers of our Constitution set up our system to protect the religious freedom of those with any belief and no belief. They did not intend for our nation to be free from religion or controlled by any particular religious belief system. Their intent was that people of religiously-based faith, non-religiously-based moral commitments, and no faith commitment at all, would work together in the public arena for the greater good. Part of what makes the American system work is that people of good will who represent that spectrum of belief share with each other, respect each other, and move forward with each other. That diversity is part of the strength and richness of our nation.
UTA WORSHIP TIMES AND RELIGIOUS RESOURCES
Roman Catholic Mass, 0900 Sunday at the USCG Chapel on South Inner Road
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Roman Catholic Mass, 1100 Sunday at the 102d IW in Building 158, third floor Chaplain's area (former Band Room)
Interdenominational Christian Worship is 1145 Sunday in the Chaplain's area of Building 158
For other service times and services for other faith groups, please call the 102d Chaplain's Office at 508-968-4508 on UTA weekends. We'll be happy to help you make a connection.