Wednesday, May 10, 2017

No, Mr. President, There Isn't A Religious Freedom Problem In The Military

US Army chaplain visits a simulated casualty during a training exercise.

My Twitter feed lit up a bit recently when this story aired on CNN, regarding comments by US President Donald Trump that US service personnel in a military hospital were denied religious items.
What was remarkable about the social media reaction is that several US military people I follow commented on how the chaplains they knew would fulfil a response for religious items before the person asking could finish the sentence.    My own experience is similar.  The military chaplains I know are eager to provide not only bibles and rosaries but also korans and prayer mats.  Part of the training that we conduct at the Canadian Armed Forces Chaplain School focuses exactly on this kind of work as part of the chaplain's duty to defend the rights and support the needs of believers of all faiths.

Possibly, as the CNN article noted, President Trump was referring to confusion that arose at a US military hospital when proselytization triggered a temporary ban on religions items.   It is regrettable that the President seems to have misunderstood this situation.  Chaplain training, at least in the CAF, focuses on the need for chaplains to meet people where they are and to respect their beliefs, however diverse they may be.  Proselytization, trying to aggressively convince another person to adopt one's faith (what Christians can evangelization) is strictly forbidden.   A conversation may lead to a request for a chaplain to say more about what the belief, but that is an entirely different matter.

Another US veteran I follow commented on Twitter that he couldn't imagine a worse situation than being helpless in a hospital bed as a chaplain or other religious person used that opportunity to proselytize.  I would agree wholeheartedly.  It reminded me of a scene in the old (2005) US series on FX, Over There, about the Iraq war, in which one of the characters is immobilized in a hospital bed while an unctuous chaplain in dress uniform, gold crosses glinting, a bible held in his hand, enters the room.   No, that's now how it's done.  A smile and a question, "How's today going?", is a better way to start.

1 comment:

Brian Train said...

Proselytization/evangelization may be forbidden in the CAF, but it appears to be a problem in the US military.
The Air Force seems to be the most devout.
Chris Hedges hyperventilates about this a bit, but he still has evidence:
Mike Weinstein, meanwhile, argues that there is a religious freedom problem in the military, in that there's little or no freedom from religion for serving agnostics and atheists:

Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


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