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Religion and the Military

Congressional Action
112th Congress (2011-2012)

Disagreement over the role of religion in the military has sparked recurring controversy throughout American history. The religious diversification of service members in the last few decades has sharpened many of these issues, from the rights of chaplains to give faith-specific prayers at official events to the rights of service members to wear religious items counter to military dress code. The repeal of the Defense Department’s policy toward homosexuals (“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”) has given rise to further divisions.

In the summer of 2012, Members of Congress took Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to task for Pentagon practices they believed infringed on the religious liberty of service personnel.  Sixty-six Members signed a June 19, 2012 letter to the Secretary complaining that the U.S. Air Force had adopted “steps signaling hostility toward religious freedom.”  Those steps are outlined in a September 1, 2011 memo issued by General Norton Schwartz, Air Force Chief of Staff, to ensure that commanders did not use their positions to promote their personal religious beliefs to subordinates.  Subsequently, 22 Members signed a July 10, 2012 letter to the Secretary protesting a Pentagon decision to revoke permission for B&H Publishing Company to use U.S. military insignia on its Bibles.

Legislation introduced in the 112th Congress:

    • H.R.2848: Veterans' Religious Freedom Act
      Sponsor: Representative Ted Poe
      Introduced September 7, 2011

      Summary: Prohibits the Secretary of Veterans Affairs from censoring or limiting the type of religious speech that may be performed at the funeral or memorial service of a veteran on the property of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

    • H.R.3828: Military Religious Freedom Protection Act
      Sponsor: Representative Tim Huelskamp
      Introduced on January 25, 2011

      Summary: An Amendment to ensure that the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” does not infringe upon the free exercise of religion by members of the Armed Forces, including chaplains

Information on proposed legislation can be found on the Library of Congress website: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/thomas.php