At Friday’s hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, Representative John Fleming (R-LA) questioned Secretary of the U.S. Air Force Deborah Lee James about the military’s halting of the Gideons International Bible distribution program at the Gunter Annex at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. Rep. Fleming also voiced his concerns about other violations of religious liberty in the military (particularly in the Air Force), condemning the current climate, in which “good order and discipline is now becoming an excuse for political correctness.” In his astute assessment of the situation, he stated that this policy “tramples the first First Amendment rights of our, certainly our airmen.”
As Rep. Fleming noted, the Gideons have had “a long-held tradition” of distributing Bibles on “military bases since FDR, since World War II” and that the situation is still unresolved as of the initial reports two weeks ago.
Rep. Fleming called upon Secretary James to explain the Gideons’ incident, and she stated that she was “not familiar with that one at all,” but that “my overall reaction is this is, under the policy…it’s a balancing act–it’s balancing the free expression of religion with the needs of the military and not giving the appearance or an actuality of forcing anything.”
“Madame Secretary,” Fleming interjected, “this has worked well for centuries; since the days of George Washington, we had chaplains…it’s only been an issue recently and so things that have been done, traditions that have been long held, where military members have been able to express themselves and their religious beliefs–we have a wide swath in the First Amendment on this–so what has changed is the behavior of the military services.”
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General Mark A. Welsh III, who along with his wife ran the “Teens Encounter Christ” program back in the mid-1980s and later as the commandant of the Air Force Academy, responded by blasting the integrity of Fox News journalist Todd Starnes, “You have to get the facts right on every one of these cases and try and stay unemotional until you know what happened. I would not believe an article from Mr. Starnes, for starters…I know there are cases where he has not had his facts right in articles.” Gen. Welsh summarily dismissed all of the claims of religious discrimination as a mere “perception.”
Rep. Fleming asked Gen. Welsh to provide written examples and explanations of instances where Mr. Starnes or others have reported inaccurately.
“I have spoken with your chaplain [Howard Stendahl],” Fleming further stated, “and I think he has some of the same concerns I do, and I would invite you to talk with him.”
(Editor’s Note: There have been numerous document cases of religious freedom violations in recent years under the Obama Administration’s watch.)
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