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Lawmaker takes push for military religious speech to the public

Jul. 9, 2013 - 06:16PM   |  
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WASHINGTON — Louisiana Rep. John Fleming urged Congress and the public Tuesday to support an effort to allow military personnel to publicly express and act on their religious beliefs.

“For those who do the most for us -- uniformed members who put their lives on the line…who have fought for our religious liberties -- (they) are the ones today that are having those very liberties taken from them,” Fleming said at a press conference outside the Capitol.

Fleming, R-4th District, is leading the House effort on the issue. Last month, the House passed his amendment as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. The Senate Armed Services Committee approved a similar measure, but the full Senate has not yet acted.

The White House “strongly” objects to the proposal, saying it could have a “significant adverse effect on good order.”

Fleming, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said he’s confident the Senate will also pass the measure. Differences between the two versions of the defense authorization legislation would be worked out in conference.

“My only concern is what may happen in conference, so that’s going to be very important to monitor,” Fleming said following Tuesday’s press event. “It’s the will of the people.”

Fleming said his measure would allow military personnel to exercise their religious beliefs “in speech and actions” but would not permit them to use religion to disobey orders.

He and others said Tuesday’s press conference was aimed at making the public aware of the issue.

“We want the American people to be engaged on this,” he said.

Fleming, along with other lawmakers and leaders of the Family Research Council, the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty and other groups, complained that political correctness has silenced the religious speech and freedoms of those in the military.

The Family Research Council unveiled a report entitled, “A Clear and Present Danger: The Threat to Religious Liberty in the Military.” The report cited cases in which it said military personnel had been asked to refrain from religious actions. In one case, an Air Force officer was told to remove a Bible from his desk. In another, a video was ordered taken down because it mentioned God.

“The evidence is beginning to point to a clear and present danger to religious liberty in our nation’s military,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.

Perkins said there’s a “growing hostility toward religious freedom. Unfortunately, members of the military cannot speak out about these things.”

The administration counters that such language could have a huge impact.

“By limiting the discretion of commanders to address potentially problematic speech and actions within their units, this provision would have a significant adverse effect on good order, discipline, morale, and mission accomplishment,” the White House wrote in a statement.

Fleming said the administration has created a “hostile work environment” in the military.

He also criticized the administration’s decision not to fund the Young Marines Program in Bossier Parish. According to program officials, the Justice Department said it would restore $15,000 in federal funds if the program agrees not to allow prayers or mentions of God at meetings.

Hundreds gathered at a rally in Bossier City early this month to support the program.

“It’s throughout the administration,” Fleming said. “They really want to push religious conscience, religious liberty out.”

Republican Sen. David Vitter also has criticized the Justice Department’s move.

“It’s deplorable that the administration is discriminating against this laudable program to help Louisiana youth just because they mention God,” Vitter said in a statement last week.

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