This column by ACRU Senior Legal Analyst Ken Klukowski was published July 24, 2013 on Breitbart.com.
A Christian chaplain in the military is being officially censored for engaging in free speech, and anti-Christian activists are demanding he be punished.
Lt. Col. Kenneth Reyes is a Christian chaplain currently serving in the U.S. Air Force. He is stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska. As an ordained clergyman whose duties are to provide religious instruction and spiritual counseling, he has a page on the base’s website called “Chaplain’s Corner.”
Reyes recently wrote an essay entitled, “No Atheists in Foxholes: Chaplains Gave All in World War II.” This common saying is attributed to a Catholic priest in World War II, made famous when President Dwight D. Eisenhower said during a 1954 speech: “I am delighted that our veterans are sponsoring a movement to increase our awareness of God in our daily lives. In battle, they learned a great truth that there are no atheists in the foxholes.”
As reported by Fox News’s Todd Starnes, when Reyes referenced this famous line in his essay, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) contacted the base commander, Col. Brian Duffy, demanding he take action on Reyes’s “anti-secular diatribe.”
MRFF’s letter says that by Reyes’s “use of the bigoted, religious supremacist phrase, ‘no atheists in foxholes,’ he defiles the dignity of service members.” They accuse him of violating military regulations.
My legal research on this issue uncovered no regulation prohibiting Reyes’ speech, which looks like expression protected by the free speech and religious freedom provisions of the First Amendment. Military leaders did not respond to Fox’s inquiries asking the Air Force to identify any such rules.
Nonetheless, only five hours after MRFF’s complaint, the essay was removed from the website. Duffy has profusely apologized to MRFF for not stopping this religious leader from sharing religious thoughts.
But this response–which again appears to be a violation of Reyes’s First Amendment rights–is insufficient for MRFF. They said, “Faith based hate, is hate all the same,” and, “Lt. Col. Reyes must be appropriately punished.” (Emphasis added).
So MRFF is saying that the coercive power of government must be used to punish a military officer, who is also an ordained Christian minister, for making ordinary religious references consistent with his faith.
Retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin of the Family Research Council–one of the leaders of a new religious liberty coalition for the military–responded, “A chaplain has been censored for expressing his beliefs about the role of faith in the lives of service members… Why do we have chaplains if they aren’t allowed to fulfill that purpose?”
MRFF is activist Mikey Weinstein’s organization. He called observant Christians “fundamentalist monsters” seeking to impose a “reign of theocratic terror,” and he described sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ in the military as an act of “spiritual rape” that makes believers “enemies of the Constitution” who are committing an act of “sedition and treason” against this nation.
The Obama-Hagel Defense Department and Air Force have met with Weinstein and MRFF over a period of four years and recently told Congress that there are no problems with suppressing religious speech in the military. However, because this growing wave of anti-Christian extremism has been exposed to the public, the U.S. House has inserted new religious liberty protections for military members in pending legislation.
President Obama threatens to veto the legislation. Reyes’s story makes it more likely that Congress will stand its ground and fight to protect the religious liberty of him and countless others in the military, as those service members continue risking their lives to fight for all Americans.