Archive for May, 2013

Bill to Expand Abortion Access for Military Women Introduced in Senate

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

abortion services for military womenSenator Kirsten Gillebrand (D-New York) has introduced a bill in the Senate that would allow military servicewomen to obtain abortions in military medical facilities, provided they pay for them out of pocket. Current law forbids federal dollars from directly funding abortions except to protect the life of the mother, or in cases of rape or incest. The law also currently prohibits military members and their families from using their own money to pay for abortions in military hospitals.

Representative Louise Slaughter (D-New York) introduced similar legislation last month in the House of Representatives.

The proposed bill, called the Military Access to Reproductive Care and Health Act (or the MARCH Act, as suckers for acronyms like to call it), is intended to allow military women to get abortions in American military facilities overseas rather than have to take leave and go back to the United States to get it or risk having an unsafe abortionist in an overseas country do it. Gillebrand and the law’s supporters are also concerned about overseas language barriers, the health and safety records of overseas abortion providers, questionable regulation, and a lack of privacy.

The Department of Defense estimates that as many as 19,000 servicemembers are sexually assaulted each year,” said Senator Gillebrand in a statement.  “While victims of rape or incest now can receive abortion services at military medical facilities, for some disclosing their assault would be especially problematic; for example, because their commanding officer is the perpetrator of the assault.  Other women may decide that they simply do not want to disclose that they were raped.  Either way, the MARCH Act of 2013 would provide a path for women in this difficult position to receive services without compromising their privacy.”

Senator Gillebrand is the chairperson of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel.

The Senate version of the bill has also picked up co-sponsorship from Senators Dick Durbin (Ill.), Al Franken (Minn.), Tom Harkin (Ia.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Bernie Sanders (Vt.), Jean Shaheen (N.H.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.). All the Senate cosponsors are Democrats, except for Sanders, who an independent but who describes himself as a “democratic socialist.”

The House version of the bill has 45 co-sponsors, all of them Democrats. Passage in the house is impossible without some Republican support, since Republicans still hold the majority in the House of Representatives. 

“Our women in uniform continue to play increasingly critical roles in our military and there is no reason for them to be excluded from the same types of health care services available to those in the private sector,” said Senator Patty Murray.

“Women serving in foreign countries deserve access to safe and legal health care, which in many cases is not available off the military base.  Women in the U.S. military shouldn’t have to forfeit their rights when they serve abroad, and this legislation would bring unjust treatment to an end,” said Senator Frank R. Lautenberg. 

Supporters of the House version of the bill state that there is a ‘conscience clause’ that allows military health care providers who object to performing abortions to refuse to provide it.

In 1993, the Clinton Administration issued an executive order that lifted the ban on using private funds to pay for abortions in military hospitals. However, Congress reinstated the ban in 1995, prohibiting private funding for abortions at military facilities except in cases involving a threat to the life of the mother, rape or incest. Congress also restricted public funding for abortions to cases involving a threat to the mother’s life. A more extensive legislative and political history is available from the Guttmacher Institute here. The Guttmacher Institute consistently supports abortion rights.

Both Senator Slaughter and Gillebrand have attempted to push similar legislation in 2011 and 2012, but without success. 

Beware of Local “Emergency Centers” Not Authorized by TRICARE

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

tricareTRICARE beneficiaries may have noticed new kinds of “Emergency Centers” popping up in their area. It may seem like a tempting health care option but, free-standing emergency rooms (ER) that are not affiliated with a hospital may not be TRICARE-authorized. If a provider, such as a free-standing ER, is not authorized then TRICARE is prohibited from paying it “facility fees.” That can leave a beneficiary stuck with a big bill.

Beneficiaries need to “know before you go.” Check a free-standing ER’s TRICARE status – before emergency care is needed. Beneficiaries can check if a provider is TRICARE-authorized by calling their regional contractor. Contact information for regional contractors is available at www.tricare.mil/contactus.  All TRICARE network providers are also searchable at www.tricare.mil/findaprovider

TRICARE defines an emergency department as an organized, hospital-based facility available 24 hours a day providing emergency services to patients who need immediate medical attention. Emergency departments affiliated with a hospital are most likely TRICARE-authorized providers. Beneficiaries who seek care at a free-standing ER need to ask if the facility is affiliated with a hospital-based emergency department. If it isn’t, the beneficiary will need to make a decision about getting care elsewhere or being responsible for the facility charges.

Learn more about emergency care under TRICARE at www.tricare.mil/emergency.

Source material here.

Military Officers Association: White House Budget Proposals ‘Cross the Line’

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

military budget cutsThe Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) condemned President Obama’s proposed cuts in military retirement pay and benefits fee hikes, saying the President’s proposals “cross the line.”

The MOAA further announced that intends to use its influence and that of its 380,000-plus members to fight both proposals. The following is verbatim from the MOAA statement of April 11th, 2013:

“MOAA opposes the suggested pay cap for currently serving members of the uniformed services of 1% (versus a 1.8% raise by law) and the Pentagon’s plan to shift$25+ billion in costs to military beneficiaries over 10 years by:

  • Raising annual fees by $1,000 or more for retired families of all ages.
  • Imposing means-testing of military retiree health benefits – which no other federal retirees endure.
  • Dramatically increasing pharmacy copays to approach or surpass the median of civilian plans.

“Military pay along with strong health care and retirement benefits are the foundational elements necessary to not just recruit, but also sustain an all-volunteer force,” MOAA President and CEO, Vice Adm.  Norb Ryan Jr.  said.  “The last time the government cut back on military pay and benefits, the results were disastrous by the late ‘90s.  It simply didn’t work then and it’s taken the past 12 years to rebuild what was lost,” he concluded.

DoD cites the need to impose these benefit cuts in order to curb “exploding” personnel cost since 2000 reiterating that health care and personnel costs now consume “one-third of the defense budget.”

“DoD’s own documents prove military health costs are not ‘exploding’ – the combined personnel and health costs are less than one-third of DoD budget the same as they’ve been for 30 years,” Ryan stated.

The Pentagon proposed similar fee increases last year and in the past; however, Congress dampened those proposals enacting selected current and future increases in 2011 and 2012, but explicitly limited discretionary increases by DoD. 

Congress rejected larger increases on the basis that:

  • Pentagon leaders need to do more to more effectively manage costs instead of penalizing beneficiaries.
  • Achieving savings by driving beneficiaries away from using service-earned benefits is inappropriate.

“Significant cuts to the crucial incentive packages that sustain a top-quality career force will undermine long-term retention and readiness,” Ryan stated.  “These proposals cross the line.  Not only do they affect the equities of military personnel and their families, they also affect the ability to support long-term national security,” he concluded.”

The Military Officers Association of America is the nation’s largest association specifically made up of current and former military officers. It is headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia.

Legionnaire’s Outbreak at Pittsburgh VA Hospital Kills 5; Director Awarded $63k Bonus

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

legionnaire’s diseaseWhat happens to Veterans Administration employees when they decide close the VA Special Pathogens Laboratory and sack two of the leading experts on legionnaire’s disease mitigation and eradication in 2006 when six years later there’s a legionnaire’s disease outbreak at the hospital they oversee that kills five people?

Well, apparently, in Shinseki’s world, they get a bonus. $62,895 bonus, to be exact. Michael Moreland received the bonus, along with a Distinguished Rank Award, given to just one percent of senior federal employees, in a black-tie banquet last week. 

On April 23rd, three days before Moreland received the bonus, the VA’s Inspector General published this report, which found that while there were some solid efforts underway to mitigate the spread of legionnaire’s bacteria in the hospital water supply (an ongoing challenge for any health care facility), the Pittsburgh VA had not followed through adequately on them.

The findings in the VA report are rather tame. But the VA IG doesn’t go into the backstory with the Special Pathogens lab, documented here.

In 2006, the efforts of Lab director Dr. Victor Yu, chief of Infectious Disease Prevention at the VA, and and Dr. Janet Stout, the director of at the Special Pathogens lab in pioneering legionnaire’s disease prevention techniques were lauded in the Pittsburgh press. Yu, Stout and the other clinical staff were getting noticed in the medical community nationwide for their work.

Nevertheless, just three days after the Pittsburgh Tribune Review published this laudatory article about the lifesaving contributions of the Special Pathogens Laboratory, VA officials in the Bush Administration abruptly shut down the Special Pathogen Laboratory for reasons that are still unclear. Five clinical staff were terminated immediately, while another, Dr. Janet Stout, was demoted to bench technician. The Lab’s director, Dr. Victor Yu, appealed to Michael Moreland’s office, but Moreland affirmed the decision to shutter the lab. 

“This absolutely will jeopardize lives,” Dr. Yu told press at the time. “Outbreaks will be missed; we can’t do testing for any more hospitals. We have been given 48 hours.”

According to correspondence from the last days of the Lab’s operation, Moreland was an obstacle to the orderly closing of the lab and the processing of remaining samples for legionnaire’s bacteria testing. Dr. Yu wrote at the time:

You promised the Special Pathogens Lab personnel 14 days to process clinical and lab specimens. While you have kept your promise, Moreland and the administration have initiated a series of actions that have proven extraordinarily disruptive.  They are now locked out of the lab. The security guard is stationed there today ostensibly to prevent the lab personnel from entering.

Yesterday, a security guard sabotaged Sue Meitzner’s cultures on patient respiratory samples by refusing her to complete her work. The fact that Mr Moreland and his staff walked through the lab before the guard appeared suggests that they ordered the security guard to force her out of the lab.

We insist that two patient specimens be re-processed since they have been ordered by VA physicians for their patients. Unfortunately we need the original sputum specimen and those two specimens were taken by Cheryl Wanzie. We also need the microscopes which were removed from the

lab without our permssion. In addition, there are at least 200 environmental samples that require processing. The samples are from Johns Hopkins University, NY Alice Hyde Hospital, Erie St Vincent Hospital, Bayview Medical Center, SUNY-Buffalo, Phoenix VAMC. These specimens must be performed for humanitarian reasons.

I will not accept the suggestion that these specimens be processed in the clinical microbiology lab. No more disruptions. Let them finish their job in the lab that they have worked in for 10 years.

Finally, let us both agree to assist the laboratory personnel so they can conclude their work. Bureaucratic politics is taking too much of their time and yours. 

Dr. Stout likewise documented several instances of Moreland’s employees interfering with her work, “bordering on harassment.”

On Wednesday and Thursday, at least 14 different individuals paraded unannounced through the lab performing walk-throughs. This included a 5 member labor crew who removed clinical specimens,microscopes, all of the diagnostic test kits, and supplies during while the lab personnel were trying to conclude their work. When Dr Melhelm came, she was accompanied by 2 security guards.

On July 12, 2006, Dr. Yu, still smarting from the closure (he uses the term “destruction”) of the Special Pathogens Laboratory, Dr. Yu requested to be allowed to interview applicants for the Clinical Microbiology Lab directorship position. Moreland and his staff refused the request. When they hired someone who had not been active in the field for many years, Dr. Yu emailed Both Michael Moreland and Dr. Rajiv Jain:

Dear Dr Jain and Mr Moreland

Given our record of clinical excellence, it seemed reasonable for me to interview the new supervisor of the Clinical Microbiology Lab.  However, this reasonable request was denied, and an unqualified individual was hired.

 

It took over 20 years to raise the VA Special Pathogens Lab to a lab of excellence that was self-sufficient and internationally-recognized.  Similarly, we elevated the VA Clinical Microbiology Lab to be the most responsive lab to clinicians at this hospital. However, the lab also became a lab of excellence as documented below.



In a period of 2 weeks, both of you took part in the destruction of 2 great labs in the US because of a presumed bureaucratic issue.

 

In sadness,

Victor L Yu MD 

In early 2007, Yu continued to press the VA over the destruction of numerous samples and cultures that were vital to continued research.

The closure led to Congressional hearings in 2008, however.

Melhem insisted repeatedly that she did not know the thousands of vials — each marked with letters and numbers and placed in racks — were being used for research when she ordered staff to toss them…

Michael Moreland, who headed the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System at the time, said he was unaware of the collection’s significance. 

Although the VA Inspector General’s report does not directly reference the closure of the Special Pathogen Laboratory in 2006, and only mentions Moreland once, they do cite Yu and Stout’s research in legionnaire’s disease pathogen control within the report’s footnotes.

Meanwhile, in addition to the finding published last week, the Veterans Affairs Inspector General’s office is conducting a criminal probe into the way senior VA managers in Pittsburgh handled the legionnaire’s outbreak. The U.S. Attorney’s office is also conducting its own criminal investigation, according to reporting from the Pittsburgh Tribune. According to reporting from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “The Pittsburgh VA first publicly revealed it had an outbreak on Nov. 16, 2012, even though officials, including Mr. Moreland, knew they had a serious problem as early as July 2011.”

Nevertheless, none of the information from the VA Inspector General’ report, nor the background story involving the dismantling of the VA Special Pathogens Laboratory, nor the congressional hearings establishing the reckless disregard for clinical procedure under Moreland’s direction, nor even the fact that Moreland’s operation is under two separate ongoing criminal probes from the VA’s own IG and by the local U.S. Attorney, was enough to slow-track Moreland’s bonus, equal to 35 percent of his $179,000+ annual salary 

Note: the occasional typographical error in quoted correspondence was intentionally retained for accuracy’s sake.

No Battalion Command For YOU, Colonel! – The Case of LTC Matthew Dooley, Considered

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Army LTC. Matthew DooleyThe Army has removed the name of LTC Matthew Dooley from consideration for battalion command, despite excellent evaluations. The removal came at the behest of LTG Lloyd J. Austin, the vice chief of staff of the Army, overruling the recommendation of the battalion command selection board members.

Dooley was suspended from his duties as an instructor at National Defense University, where he taught an elective course called Perspectives on Islam and Radical Islamism, after a number of Muslim groups complained to the Department of Defense about the content of his courses.

At issue was a set of PowerPoint slides leaked to Wired.com that contained a number of passages designed to get students to consider a horrendous hypothetical – total war against the Muslim world. According to leaked course documents, Dooley walked his students through a series of policy decisions which American planners could be faced with in the event of a complete breakdown in Western-Muslim relations. To wit:

This model presumes Geneva Convention IV 1949 standards of armed conflict and the pursuant UN endorsements of it are now, due to the current common practices of Islamic terrorists, no longer relevant or respected globally. This would leave open the option once again of taking war to a civilian population wherever necessary (the historical precedents of Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki being applicable to the Mecca and Medina destruction DP in Phase III…

…This model restates previous internationally-accepted Geneva Conventions for protections afforded to combatants captured in uniform and reiterates removal of protections for those who are caught fighting/operating out of uniform (spys [sic]. Terrorists, criminals.).

Against “non-state actors” do the Geneva conventions of 1949 now need redefinition/clarification?

Objections from numerous Muslim groups brought the course to the attention of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Patrick Dempsey, who shut the course down ordered a review of all DoD training materials on Islam and Islamism.

What has not been clear from most reporting on the subject – whether by the formidable Noah Schachtman and Spencer Ackerman at Wired.com’s Danger Room blog, which first published the objectionable course material, nor from the major networks, nor from the outlying conservative press (Washington Times), nor the liberal press and blogosphere such as the Huffington Post, and nor from the press normally assigned to cover the military, such as Military Times and Tom Rick’s excellent blog at Foreign Policy, is a serious and fair-minded look at Dooley’s actual course materials that proved his undoing.

According to the Thomas More Law Center – a conservative leaning organization that has come to Dooley’s aid, “the characterization of the slides as positions officially advocated by LTC Dooley was totally inaccurate.” According to Dooley’s defenders at the Thomas More Law Center, the Danger Room blog published his content under sensational and misleading headlines that caused the Army to take action against Dooley.

Even assuming the worst of Danger Room, though, it is still encumbent on the Army and General Dempsey to make a full and fair investigation before taking negative action against an officer’s career.  But who was right? Was Dooley out of line with his potentially inflammatory rhetoric in his course? Was he at odds with established doctrine? Was he “academically irresponsible,” as General Dempsey has claimed?

Or was Dooley unfairly maligned as a result of an hypothetical-grounded academic exercise in policy-making that would normally be well within the purview of a high-level course designed to groom senior officers for future policy-making billets, in which they may have to deal with the explosion of the Muslim world against the West?

It is, of course, the policy of the United States that we are emphatically not at war with Islam, writ large. Indeed, the U.S. depends on moderate Muslim allies all over the world to help it attain its strategic objectives. The answer to whether Dooley was behaving responsibly appears to depend on the extent to which he was dealing with hypotheticals – IF there is a general and total war between Islam and the United States, THEN these are the kinds of policy decisions that will confront us.

Alternatively, it is plausible that Dooley was not dealing with a hypothetical general war between Islam, but was advocating a total war policy based on the current state of affairs. This conclusion seems to inform Gen. Dempsey’s actions, and would run counter to U.S. policy, though there is a counterargument that Dooley, as an academic, is entitled to the long established tradition of academic liberty and freedom of inquiry.

This is the position taken by the Thomas More Law Center, and explained in detail in their long letter linked above.

To Danger Room’s credit, however, they do link to a lengthier document that Dooley produced as part of the course, which can serve to illuminate our own inquiry. And in it, Dooley seems to anticipate “politically correct” criticism, and musters his own preemptive defense: How do we define the threat if we are not allowed to talk about it?

Again, a few pages later, Dooley asserts, “Political Correctness is Killing Us: How can we properly identify the enemy, analyze his weaknesses, and defeat him, if we are NEVER permitted to examine him from the most basic doctrinal level?”

Dooley then goes on to define Islamic jihadism in terms of its Quranic and Sharia origins – which are naturally origins that are not unique to the radical forms of Islam, but which inform all of it. 

The course material does not claim to represent U.S. doctrine. Indeed, Dooley clearly puts daylight between his own counter-jihad ops model and official U.S. policy. 

“The purpose of this model is to generate dynamic discussion and thought. The concepts considered herein are not the Official Policy of the United States Government or the DoD, nor are they in any part listed within the current NSS, NDS, QDR, QDDR or any official DoD document.”

While my more conservative readers would no doubt feel more comfortable with me excoriorating Big Army for a PC crackdown on an instructor leading students on a reasonable hypothetical exercise, it is not that cut-and-dried. It turns out that there was at least some reason for Dempsey’s ire: Dooley goes on to state something that the Army no doubt found hard to swallow:

“This model asserts Islam has already declared war on the West, and the United States specifically, as is demonstrable with over 30 years of violent history. It is, therefore, illogical to continue along our current global strategy models that presume there are always possible options for common ground and detent [sic] with the Muslim Umma without waging near “total war.”

This passage skews perilously close to an advocacy of total war, or “near total war,” not based on a hypothetical future war with the Muslim world, but on one which Dooley asserts already exists.

It is therefore difficult for Dooley to take refuge in the assertion that he was merely raising hypotheticals in a thought exercise. It also places the issue clearly within the purview of the Chief of Staff to assess, as a matter of officer training, though that does not negate the Thomas More Center’s assertion of academic privilege. The freedom to explore controversial and even offensive lines of inquiry is part and parcel of that long-established tradition, and a necessary element of high-level professional military education just as much as it is in other fields, and for the same reasons.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to dismiss Gen. Dempsey’s view as wholly unreasonable. 

It is, however, unfortunate that it is General Dempsey, of all officers, who is in the position to make this decision, because Dempsey is considered in some circles the Poster Boy for political generals who are so enthralled to politically correct assumptions that they cannot accurately assess the real threat before us. One need look no further than Dempsey’s reaction to the Fort Hood massacre, in which an American military officer and psychiatrist went on a murderous and jihad-inspired rampage that killed 13 people – all because Army personnel officers and Medical Service commanders refused to act on the obvious signs of Hasan’s increasing radicalization. There was no counterintelligence effort initiated that could have uncovered Hassan’s correspondence with foreign jihadists before the fact that could have allowed authorities to intervene and arrest Hasan for conspiracy before he killed anyone.

This, by itself, is evidence of a willful institutional PC blindness that illustrates Dooley’s assertion that “political correctness is killing us.”

But it didn’t stop there. Dempsey’s own statement after the Fort Hood massacre was deeply offensive to many within the military: “Our diversity, not only in our Army, but in our country, is a strength. And as horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse,” said Dempsey on CNN’s State of the Union talk show.

It was doubly offensive because a misguided commitment to tolerance of radicalized Muslims in the Army – or at least, a determined effort to look the other way – was a direct contributor to the deaths of these soldiers.

The result is potentially damaging to the military. “The result is certain.  Officers and instructors see what has happened to LTC Dooley, and will refrain from telling the truth about Islam or confronting the difficult strategic challenges facing our nation for fear of jeopardizing their professional careers,” wrote the Thomas More Institute. “The Pentagon has still apparently not learned from the politically correct policies that led to the Ft. Hood massacre.”

 

Warrior Songs to Hold Veteran Songwriters Retreat at Wallingford, PA, June 19-23rd

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

warrior songs logoWarriorSongs, a non-profit organization to help veterans recover from combat experiences, military sexual trauma or other military-related mental health challenges, will be holding a workshop from June 19th to the 23rd at Wallingford, Pennsylvania. Structured as a poetry and songwriting retreat, director and songwriter Jason Moon, himself an Iraq war veteran, will guide participants through a weekend of creativity, music, poetry, reflection, healing and bonding. 

The event will take place at Pendle Hill, a Quaker study center founded in 1930. Lodging is available on site. Full scholarships are available from Warriorsongs.

Jason Moon, the founder and director of Warriorsongs, returned from a deployment to Iraq with a combat engineer company in 2004. Struggling with PTSD, Moon abandoned his pre-war passion for songwriting and instead turned increasingly to alcohol and risky behavior, in an attempt to recreate the kind of adrenaline rush he experienced in Iraq.

“Before the war, songwriting was my greatest joy, and suddenly, I couldn’t write about anything,” he says. “Even writing about something happy just reminded me of how sad I was.” Moon took a five year hiatus from songwriting – ending shortly after he was hospitalized for depression and suicidal ideation culminating in an attempt to take his own life by overdosing on prescription drugs and alcohol.

While recuperating, he participated in the filming of On the Bridge, a film by Oliver Morel on the struggle to overcome PTSD. Morel asked Moon to contribute some original songs – and the floodgates opened.

Since beginning his workshops, Jason and Warriorsongs have been featured prominently by the Associated Press and the Huffington Post, and have had favorable mentions in many local papers where Warriorsongs has held workshops and events across the country.

You can purchase a copy of Jason Moon’s CD, Trying to Find My Way Home, here. His ReverbNation page allows you to listen some of his material as well.

The Wallingford retreat is limited to 17-18 participants. Scholarships are available. Contact Warriorsongs for more information at info@warriorsongs.org

Reports of the Death of Religious Liberty in the Military Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

religious freedom in the US militaryAround the first of May, news reports, led by Breitbart, breathlessly reported that the Obama Administration confirms that Christians and could face UCMJ action for talking with their buddies about Christ.

The headline was inflammatory and off-base. Yes, I have been immensely critical of the military and homeland defense bureaucracies for their bizarre focus  on Christians and veterans – a focus that seems even more off base when you realize that every man-hour spent on monitoring these groups was a man-hour that could not be invested monitoring Tamerlan Tsarnaev, even after the Russian and possibly Saudi intelligence services independently figured out and notified us that he was bad news.

But in reality, the Obama Administration confirmation only reaffirms that longstanding policies on the inappropriate use of government facilities, computers and one’s own rank and/or job title to advance personal religious views are still in force – under the very same First Amendment.

If there was any doubt, the DoD clarified that position on May 2nd. “Service members can share their faith (evangelize), but must not force unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others of any faith or no faith to one’s beliefs (proselytization),” said LTCDR Nathan Christensen, acting as a spokesperson for the Department of Defense.

Background

Looked at more broadly, military prohibitions against certain forms of proselytizing are required under the Establishment Clause, which prevents the government from establishing an official state religion. Anyone who wears the uniform is an agent of the U.S. government, and any religious pronouncements made in uniform or while acting in an official capacity of any kind is a potential violation.

There are existing rules that prohibit just that – and they are very similar to the rules that prevent using your position as a supervisor to pressure someone into a business or sexual relationship they would otherwise not have considered.

There is no prohibition against the private exercise of religion, nor expression of religious views in the capacity of a private citizen. Talk you your buddies about Jesus all you want (or until they tell you to shut up!). But if it’s wrong for you to push your Amway business on them, or hit them up for a loan, or pressure them to go to bed with you because it creates a conflict of interest, it’s probably wrong for you to lean on them about Jesus as well.

Furthermore, if you’ve got your rank on while you’re doing it, our you rely on your rank to put troops in a position where they have to listen to your preaching, you are probably running afoul of the Establishment Clause to the Constitution, and almost definitely running afoul of rules against such abuse of authority that long predate the Obama Administration.

The military wrestles with the legal aspects of proselytizing within the ranks on a regular basis – and there is, indeed, a long-established legal foundation of statutes and precedents upon which to build a policy. For example, the first chapter in this issue of the Air Force Law Review from 2007 is devoted to balancing the individual right to freedom of expression with the restrictions of the Establishment Clause, and also with the longstanding tradition of prayer and other solemnities at formal unit functions.

Collision Course

The religious liberties of chaplains are on a collision course with official policy, however. As more and more same sex couples become part of the military family, chaplains from Catholic, conservative or orthodox Jewish, Muslim or mainline Protestant traditions will increasingly have to come to terms with how to minister to these groups and serve their spiritual and sacramental needs while still remaining true to the tenets of their faith.

In the civilian world, it’s not a big problem: Same sex couples who wanted to be part of a community of worship but whose marriages are not recognized by the major religious traditions were free to join the reformed, Episcopalian or Unitarian-Universalist congregations down the road. They may not have the same options out at Camp Swampy, Mississippi. And Chaplains will still need to deal with and minister to servicemembers trying to navigate the pain of grief, loss, infidelity or other marital issues in same-sex households, whether they regard the same sex relationship as an abomination or not.

The military will have to balance the doctrinal freedom of Chaplains with their responsibility to see that the chaplain is an equal-opportunity minister. 

Opponents of Freedom of Expression 

While existing practice is balanced and workable and has served us admirably for generations, there are those who still want to tear the whole thing out by the roots. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, headed by Michael L. ‘Mikey’ Weinstein, an atheist and an attorney (he styles himself a “civil rights activist). 

Weinstein has been making the rounds of talk shows and publications, preaching against religious expression any which way he can, and using language to describe Christians that is itself most reminiscent of Himmler’s anti-Semitic demonization in Der Steurmer.

Case in point:

Today, we face incredibly well-funded gangs of fundamentalist Christian monsters who terrorize their fellow Americans by forcing their weaponized and twisted version of Christianity upon their helpless subordinates in our nation’s armed forces…”

Queasy with the bright and promising lights of the cultural realities of the present day, those evil, fundamentalist Christian creatures and their spiritual heirs have taken refuge behind flimsy, well-worn, gauze-like euphemistic facades such as “family values” and “religious liberty.” These bandits coagulate their stenchful substances in organizations such as the American Family Association (AFA), the ultra-fundamentalist Family Research Council (FRC), and the Chaplains Alliance for Religious Liberty (CARL). The basis of their ruinous unity is the bane of human existence and progress: horrific hatred and blinding bigotry.

Weinstein then goes on to accuse these groups of “rhetorically charged propaganda” and the “crudest sort of name-calling.”

We also reported on Weinstein here, after Weinstein appeared on a Huffington Post broadcast warning of a “fascistic tsunami” of jack-booted Jesus freaks hoping to weaponize their faith to… well, I’ll let Mikey explain it:

We deal with a fascistic tsunami of fundamentalist Christian exceptionalism and supremacy… It’s our way or the highway… It’s nuclear war. It’s using our weapons of mass destruction as an accelerant, a lubricant to bring a fundamentalist Christian version of a weaponized Jesus back here. They are promised, I kid you not, literally promised a 200 mile river, four and a half feet deep, filled with nothing but the human blood, their version of Jesus’s slaughter at the Battle of Armageddon, and they thirst for that…

Dominion Christianity. We’re fighting the Christian version of the Taliban. Not Christianity…Most of our members and supporters are Protestant and Roman Catholic. We’re dealing with a virulent version of this that wants bring about the end of the earth and use nuclear weapons because that’s what their version of the Bible says must be done. 

Weinstein is, quite obviously, a delusional, bigoted, obsessed whack-job every bit as unbalanced as anyone in the Westboro Baptist Church. 

So what does the current Department of Defense do? Well, obviously, the DoD thought it was appropriate to give this guy the ears of several generals so he can “advise them” on military policy regarding religious expression. Bizarrely, former Ambassador Joe Wilson – of Yellowcake in Nigeria fame, was in on that meeting, too.

According to reporting from the Washington Post, Weinstein was invited to meet with several general officers to discuss further regulation of religious expression. The meeting took place several days after Weinstein’s inane column appeared on Huffington Post.

So while nothing has changed in terms of policy at this point, it’s still alarming that unbalanced nutcases like Weinstein and the long-discredited Ambassador Joe Wilson (the Senate intelligence committee found that all of Wilson’s claims about his Niger trip were false) are still getting the red carpet treatment under the new Secretary of Defense. 

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