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No change to rules governing religion in the military

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The Pentagon has not changed its stance on allowing service members to share their faith but not to proselytize, a Pentagon official says.

The military reiterated its policies after several conservative news outlets, including The Washington Times and the Fox News website, carried stories recently surmising that officials were planning to crack down on soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines and Coast Guard members who discuss their religious beliefs with their cohorts.

The Pentagon did, however, clarify its definitions of “evangelization” and “proselytization,” saying that the former means sharing one’s faith, while the latter involves an effort to convert someone. Essentially, the Pentagon says evangelizing is fine, but proselytizing is not.

The news reports followed an April 23 meeting at the Pentagon between Air Force officials and Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, the controversial head of the Albuquerque-based Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

Weinstein is a former Air Force judge advocate whose 2005 charges against the Air Force Academy led to an investigation that found religious “insensitivity” against nonfundamentalists at the academy. Weinstein has waged war against what he sees as a culture of Christian proselytizing in the uniformed services.

The April meeting reportedly centered on Section 2.11 of Air Force Instruction 1-1, regarding Air Force culture and standards. The document states, in part, that “Leaders at all levels … must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion.”

Like all Air Force regulations, violations can be prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The regulation, in effect since Aug. 7, 2012, is not new, but is simply a consolidation and reiteration of existing Air Force policy, said Lt. Col. Laurel P. Tingley with the Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs Office.

“Service members can share their faith (evangelize), but must not force unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others of any faith or no faith to one’s beliefs (proselytization),” Tingley said. “If a service member harasses another member on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, or disability, then the commander takes action based on the gravity of the occurrence. Likewise, when religious harassment complaints are reported, commanders take action based on the gravity of the occurrence on a case-by-case basis.”

Weinstein, who told Fox News that proselytizing is “a version of being spiritually raped,” also said his organization “would love to see hundreds of prosecutions to stop this outrage of fundamentalist religious persecution.”

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen. said confusion arose when two separate statements he made earlier in the week were combined in some news reports to leave the erroneous impression that service members who “evangelize” could be prosecuted under military law.

Pentagon officials said there are no plans to step up disciplinary actions related to expressions of religious, or nonreligious, beliefs.

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