Q: What is the proper role of religion — and personal religious belief — in the U.S. armed forces? Should a particular religious affiliation disqualify someone from active military service? How far should the military go to accommodate personal religious beliefs and practices?
The Fort Hood shooting is a national tragedy perpetrated by an individual clearly motivated by hatred and possibly even by a bastardization of his own Muslim faith. That this incident seems to have ignited a new round of anti-Muslim rhetoric deepens the tragedy and its repercussions.
Using this incident to instill a hatred and mistrust of Muslims proudly serving in our military damages its integrity and ignores the religious freedom assured in the Constitution that the men and women serving in our armed forces are sworn to defend.
The tragedy at Fort Hood raises questions about the proper role of religion in our armed forces. Without question, all of the men and women who give their lives to military service should be allowed to practice their faith or choose to practice no faith without fear of prejudice or retribution. There is no place in the military for proselytization among military personnel or by military personnel in relation to citizens at home or abroad. The mission of the armed forces is a military mission, not a religious one.
Let me be succinct as well as specific in answering the multi-faceted question posed to On Faith panelists this week:
What is the proper role of religion – and personal religious belief – in the U.S. armed forces? The U.S. military has no responsibility for the affirmation or condemnation of any religion or the lack thereof. The U.S. military has a constitutional obligation to respect the personal or religious beliefs among all of its personnel. Military chaplains should respect religious pluralism and persons with no religion as well as provide ministry to all people in the armed forces who request assistance, regardless of their faith tradition or lack of one. Simply put, religion has no official role to play in our military.
Should a particular religious affiliation disqualify someone from active military service? No. That would be a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution and a broadside to the nation’s historic respect for religion. The fitness and effectiveness of a soldier cannot be determined by the soldier’s religion or lack of thereof.
How far should the military go to accommodate personal religious beliefs and practices? The military should protect its members’ individual rights to follow their respective faith traditions and the rights of all members of the military to be free from proselytization. A Jew wearing a yarmulke, a Sikh wearing a Turban, a Muslim eating halal food or a Christian carrying a pocket Bible all seem like reasonable accommodations. But the military should have no role in supporting or discouraging sectarian beliefs and participation in religious rituals. Unity in the military should be derived from the purpose for which the military exists in this nation and the common cause to which all of its members should be devoted – the protection of this nation and its citizens.