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First Liberty Institute Submits Testimony to Congress on Religious Discrimination in U.S. Military

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January 31, 2014

IN THE MILITARY

In late January, First Liberty Institute submitted a written statement to the House Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Military Personnel regarding religious accommodation in the armed forces.

First Liberty Institute’s statement, which was accepted, was especially powerful because First Liberty Institute has become the leading legal organization addressing the issue.  Our statement citied real stories and cases, including those of our own clients, of religious hostility in the military.

REAL STORIES OF RELIGIOUS HOSTILITY
For example, the statement informed Congress:

“First Liberty Institute currently represents three active duty service members whose religious freedom has been threatened by the military just within the past six months. In each case, our clients—each with years of decorated and honorable service to their credit—simply tried to serve their nation while remaining true to the tenets of their faith. Yet each experienced uncertainty, fear, hostility or outright denial of the right to freely exercise their religious beliefs.”

The statement then listed details of each account, including the case of Senior Master Sergeant Phillip Monk, a 19-year combat veteran who was relieved of his duties and transferred to a different unit because he did not agree with his openly gay commander’s opinion on same-sex marriage.  It continued:

“In each of these incidents, the military used existing laws, regulations, or policies to justify its hostility towards religious freedom. Our service members of faith—any faith—are less able to freely express their sincerely-held religious beliefs than at any time in our history.   

As a result, our men and women in uniform are losing the very constitutional freedoms they swore an oath to protect.  And despite what some critics may claim, these incidents are not isolated. There is a real and growing threat that our service members may lose the First Amendment right to freely exercise their religious beliefs.”

RECENT CHANGES TO DOD POLICY
This submission is especially important because it comes on the heels of last week’s announcement that the U.S. Department of Defense changed its policy regarding freedom of religious speech and exercise in the Armed Forces.

“In light of these incidents, we commend the Department of Defense for its recent changes to Department of Defense Instruction 1300.17. On its face, 1300.17 appears to address past deficiencies with respect to service members’ religious liberties.  

It is critical, however, that the Department of Defense follows this promising start by ensuring that all service members are truly free to exercise their religious beliefs without fear, intimidation, threat, or punishment.  Our service members deserve better than lip service paid to the sacrifices they continue to make on behalf of all Americans.”

First Liberty Institute is pleased with the recent change, and while it is definitely a major shift, it will only lead to victory if it is properly enforced.

YOU CAN JOIN THE FIGHT
Your support of First Liberty Institute is one of the main reasons we are able to make such an impact on religious liberty in the military.

Our nationally famous defense of SMSgt Monk—and our other efforts—put tremendous pressure on the Obama Pentagon. This new policy, along with our recent submission to the House Armed Services Committee, are all huge steps to gaining back ground and protecting religious freedom for those in the armed forces.

Your giving is critical to our effort. Every dollar you give to First Liberty Institute is multiplied to give the finest legal defense possible to those who fight for our freedoms everyday.  With your help, we WIN.

About First Liberty Institute
First Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.firstliberty.org.

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