Americans United for Separation of Church and State today released an in-depth report that debunks claims by Religious Right groups that religious liberty in the military is under siege.
The AU report, “Clear and Present Falsehoods: The Real State of Religious Freedom in the Military,” responds to an earlier report by the Family Research Council (FRC) that purported to list widespread instances of religious liberty violations in the armed forces.
In fact, AU says, the FRC report (titled “A Clear and Present Danger: The Threat to Religious Liberty in the Military”) is merely a list of overblown and inaccurate claims that often don’t provide context or the whole story.
Many examples of religious liberty “violations” listed in the FRC report were in reality efforts by military officials to enforce separation of church and state or were ambiguous policies that were quickly fixed. A final category included examples of private individuals being critical of military policy.
None of these things, said Americans United, amount to real violations of individual religious freedom.
“This Family Research Council’s report is essentially a list of grievances, not religious liberty violations,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “The FRC’s report is built on a tissue of distortions, half-truths and hearsay. It’s a shame that anyone took it seriously.”
Lynn noted that despite its shortcomings, the FRC report has been cited as evidence of bias against fundamentalist Christians in the military. Last month, examples listed in it were used by Republicans during a House subcommittee hearing on religious liberty issues in the armed forces.
Asserts Americans United in the report’s introduction, “Although the FRC report didn’t contain any serious violations of religious liberty, it still had an impact: it has been used as support in the effort to weaken religious liberty protections in the military. By telling these stories over and over (and failing to mention that many have been judged to be baseless or have been resolved), groups like the FRC create the false impression in the public mind that there are deep-seated problems with the rights of evangelicals in the military.”
Here are a few examples from AU’s report:
FRC Claim: Franklin Graham was disinvited from speaking at the Pentagon.
What really happened: The FRC report fails to tell the whole story. Graham had been invited by a private group to address a prayer breakfast. Military officials got wind of Graham’s long track record of making intolerant statements about Muslims and gay people. They decided his presence would be counter to the military’s goal of inclusion and support for soldiers of all faiths and philosophies. He was disinvited.
FRC Claim: Soldiers at Fort Hood in Texas were told not to support or contribute to evangelical Christian or Tea Party groups.
What really happened: The FRC report fails to note that officials at Foot Hood investigated these allegations and determined that they were false.
FRC Claim: Officials at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C., barred visitors from giving wounded soldiers religious literature.
What really happened: The FRC report does not put this incident in its proper context. Walter Reed officials took steps to curb aggressive proselytizing by groups that were visiting soldiers after some soldiers and their families complained that the visitors were criticizing service personnel and disparaging them. Walter Reed officials quickly realized that the policy as applied to the distribution of religious literature was too broad and scrapped it; it was never enforced.
AU’s report was drafted by Legislative Director Maggie Garrett, Federal Legislative Counsel Elise Helgesen Aguilar and Peter Zupan, an intern. It is available here.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.