Before American service personnel head off for training, they must make a final stop a Military Entrance Processing Station to have a final physical exam, take the oath of office for joining the armed forces and get their own copy of the Bible.
That's right. Some of these stations have allowed Gideons International, the group well-known for providing Bibles in hotel rooms around the world, special access to our troops.
But it's not surprising. The Gideons' activities are just a "part of a broader pattern within the military, of allowing outside groups easier access to evangelize," according to Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn.
Thankfully, it seems the Pentagon is finally doing something to correct the problem at the 65 processing stations.
According to a story in The Virginian-Pilot, a new regulation that promises to crack down on evangelizing was sent to commanders stating: "Under no circumstances," will any outsiders "be permitted to proselytize, preach or provide spiritual counseling" to recruits or staff members at the centers.
The regulation also bars publications that "create the reasonable impression that the government is sponsoring, endorsing or inhibiting religion generally." It also does not allow for outside groups to distribute sales flyers or participate in commercial advertising.
It's a regulation that is long overdue. Not only were the Gideons given access to the soldiers, the group often distributed copies of the New Testament with khaki covers, making it appear to be a military publication.
Another evangelical group, In PURSUIT!, also participates in "military outreach" at these centers. According to the organization's Web Site, its members are "biblical chaplains" who provide copies of the New Testament to "any soldier who requests one." Group leader Tim Sherman wears camouflage fatigues when handing out Bibles and speaking to recruits!
"I find this very disturbing. In my view, these people are impersonating military officers," Laurel Williams, a Florida lawyer and major in the Army reserve, told The Virginian Pilot.
It's a shame any such regulation even needs to be put into place, considering these activities are already in clear violation of the Constitution. The government has no constitutional authority to impose religion on anyone, including our service personnel. And not only is government-sanctioned proselytizing unconstitutional, it is also disrespectful to our military personnel of different faiths or no faith at all.
Members of the armed forces sign up to serve our country, not be religiously coerced. Instead of Bibles, maybe they should receive a copy of the Constitution with its Bill of Rights—after all, those are the rights they are defending when they fight for our country.
Let's hope this new regulation puts an end to the Gideons' access to our military. Our serviceman are taking an oath to protect our rights and freedoms; shouldn't our country do the same for them?