When the intolerant craft tolerance policy

By Richard Nelson

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May 3, 2013

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Would you consult Congress for tips on how to live within your means and get out of debt?  Would you ask Rush Limbaugh for tips on humility?  Would you tap the wisdom of Lindsay Lohan for insight into self-control?  If so, you can stop reading now and invest your valuable time elsewhere.

Still there?  Ok, get this, according to the Washington Post, the Pentagon last month consulted with Michael Weinstein for help in crafting religious tolerance policies for the military.  If your jaw isn’t scraping the floor right now, you are either one of the very well informed, to whom this is old news, or, like me before last week, you have no idea who Michael Weinstein is.

Allow me to enlighten you.  Michael Weinstein published an article in the Huffington Post just last month entitled “Fundamentalist Christian Monsters.”  Sounds pretty tolerant, huh?  In that article, which bemoaned the influence of Christians in the military, he said, “If these fundamentalist Christian monsters of human degradation, marginalization, humiliation and tyranny cannot broker or barter your acceptance of their putrid theology, then they crave for your universal silence in the face of their rapacious reign of theocratic terror.”  He can’t be serious . . . he is joking . . . isn’t he?  If only.  And, the military under the Obama Administration is consulting him for help with religious tolerance policy.

When Fox News inquired into the role of Weinstein in vetting military regulations on religion, the Department of Defense sent an email meant to clarify DOD policy.  Instead, it set off another firestorm of controversy.  The email said, “Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense,” and the ominous line before it read, “Court martials and non-judicial punishments are decided on a case-by-case basis, and it would be inappropriate to speculate on the outcome in future.”

Does that mean that a soldier witnessing to another soldier is subject to court martial?  What about a chaplain?  In the face of rising concerns, the DOD struggled to clarify, issuing the following statement on Thursday: “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).”  No word yet on how “force,” “unwanted,” and “intrusive” will be defined.

All this comes on the heels of a slide presentation used during an Army Reserve training session that listed Evangelicals, Catholics, Mormons, and Sunni Muslims as “extremist groups,” an email from a commander at Fort Campbell listing the Family Research Council and the American Family Association as hate groups, and the shutdown of the Southern Baptist Convention’s website on some military installations.  These incidents have been described as unauthorized incidents or technical glitches.  Time will tell.  Meanwhile, we can only hope the Pentagon won’t invite Lindsay Lohan for insight into self-control.

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Director, Commonwealth Policy Center