Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

May 18, 2013

Fact Check: Is Pentagon court-martialing on basis of faith?

Q: Has the Pentagon recently declared that sharing one’s faith is punishable by court-martial?

A: No. The Pentagon merely restated its long-held policy that military members can “share their faith (evangelize)” but “not force unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others … to one’s beliefs (proselytization).”

FULL QUESTION

I have seen several postings on Facebook regarding a story in Breitbart News concerning the Pentagon court-martialing soldiers, including chaplains, who share their Christian or Jewish faith with others in the military. What’s the truth behind this story?

FULL ANSWER

After the publication of an April 30 Fox News Radio report about religious proselytizing in the military, a number of conservative websites jumped to the erroneous conclusion that the Pentagon would court-martial members of the military for merely sharing their religious faith.

That article, from Fox News contributor Todd Starnes, quoted Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Defense Department spokesman, saying that “religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense,” and that “court martials (sic) and non-judicial punishments are decided on a case-by-case basis and it would be inappropriate to speculate on the outcome in specific cases.”

Those quotes spawned some inaccurate claims from a variety of sources:

Breitbart.com reported that “President Barack Obama’s civilian appointees who lead the Pentagon are confirming that the military will make it a crime - possibly resulting in imprisonment - for those in uniform to share their faith.”

A post on Examiner.com followed with “the Obama administration has released a statement confirming the unthinkable: Any soldier who professes Christianity can now be court-martialed and may face imprisonment and a dishonorable discharge from the military … even if they are a military chaplain.”

The New American magazine ran a story claiming that the Pentagon had admitted “that U.S. military personnel could face court-martial for sharing their Christian faith with others.”

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