COVID-19: First Liberty to Secretary of Defense: Protect Service Members’ Religious Liberty During Pandemic | First Liberty

First Liberty to Secretary of Defense:
Protect Service Members’ Religious Liberty During Pandemic

First Liberty Institute expresses concern over recent religious discrimination

Washington, DC—First Liberty Institute today sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to express concern over recent incidents within the U.S. Army that have resulted in unlawful religious discrimination against service members, and to urge the Secretary to issue guidance that strongly protects religious freedom within the Department of Defense. First Liberty is joined on the letter by The Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty and The Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition.

You can read the letter to Secretary Esper here.

“Secretary Esper must make it clear that the religious liberty of our service men and women is a high priority, particularly during these trying times,” said Mike Berry, General Counsel at First Liberty Institute. “Service members have not been immune to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they remain at their posts, defending our freedom. It’s outrageous that that chaplains who are helping our service members, veterans, and their families through this extraordinarily difficult time are being silenced by an anti-religion group and their bogus legal claims.”

Dr. Ron Crews, Executive Director, Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty added, “The ministry of military chaplains during this unprecedented time continues a tradition of service since 1775, making sure that our service members are able to worship or not worship according to the dictates of their conscience.”

Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, USA Ret., Executive Director of the Restore Military Religious Freedom coalition, made the following observations: “As a retired member of the armed forces with over three decades of service, those under my command have made many expressions of faith and sought much spiritual counsel. Chaplains are an essential component of the armed forces, and it is absolutely critical that they have access to the effective and standard means of communication being used in their commands. The messages being criticized by the MRFF were completely legitimate and appropriate, and it would be inexcusable and unlawful to compel chaplain communications to be hidden away in some dark e-corner because hostile critics dislike the religious expression or the chaplains themselves.”

Recently, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (“MRFF”) publicly demanded immediate adverse action against several Army chaplains for carrying out their constitutionally-mandated mission. At Fort Drum, NY, chaplains assigned to the Army’s legendary 10th Mountain Division published a series of videos to a social media site inviting viewers to pray in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. At Redstone Arsenal, AL, another Army chaplain also published a video to social media in which he sought to encourage viewers with a message of hope during difficult times. At Camp Humphreys, South Korea, yet another Army chaplain who sought to offer encouragement and hope sent an email to his fellow Christian chaplains commending to them a Christian book he recently read. In each case, the MRFF demanded the Army censor or discipline the chaplains and the Army quickly complied with the MRFF’s demands.

In its letter to the Secretary, First Liberty argues that the chaplains “were merely carrying out their noble duties as chaplains.” The letter further points out that “the Army’s actions in each incident are unlawful. The MRFF’s demands are based on the flawed notion that military chaplains may not carry out their official duties outside of a religious ceremony that occurs within the four walls of a chapel. Army leaders must know better by now. Federal law, military regulations, and court precedents belie the MRFF’s specious claims.”

The letter urges the Secretary to “issue clear DOD guidance, consistent with Congress’ directive, that strongly protects religious freedom within DOD. Such guidance will slow the spread of misinformation, flawed legal arguments, and religious discrimination.”


Attacks like these are why First Liberty’s team of legal experts are leading this crucial fight to ensure that our rights to religious freedom are not compromised.

As attacks against churches, churchgoers and now military chaplains continue to take place all across our nation during the “new normal,” it is clear that the work we are doing is vital for our freedoms and the future of our country. And it is only through your support that we able stand ready to defend your right to live out your faith.

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