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Published On: Sat, May 4th, 2013

Military clarifies stance on sharing faith, there will be no court martials

Members of the military are free to share their faith as long as they don’t harass others, the Department of Defense said in a statement Thursday.

A Pentagon ban on proselytzing had caused an uproar in social media this week. Conservative activists claimed that service members could face court martial for talking about Jesus.

 As they fly towards a hospital in Iraq, Lt. j. g. Paul Greer, a chaplain with 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, prays for a wounded Soldier during an urgent casualty evacuation mission, Oct. 27. The Soldiers condition improved as Greer prayed over him. photo/ 2004 USMC

As they fly towards a hospital in Iraq, Lt. j. g. Paul Greer, a chaplain with 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, prays for a wounded Soldier during an urgent casualty evacuation mission, Oct. 27. The Soldiers condition improved as Greer prayed over him. photo/ 2004 USMC

But a Defense Department spokesman said Friday that evangelizing is allowed, as long as it is not disruptive.

“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 Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman, in an email.

“If a service member harasses another member on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, or disability, then the commander takes action based on the gravity of the occurrence. Likewise, when religious harassment complaints are reported, commanders take action based on the gravity of the occurrence on a case-by-case basis.”

Christensen said there are no plans to single out evangelical Christians for punishment, despite claims of activists.

“The U.S. Department of Defense has never and will never single out a particular religious group for persecution or prosecution. The Department makes reasonable accommodations for all religions and celebrates the religious diversity of our service members,” he said.

He said talking about faith in the military should be allowed because of the Constitution.

“Members of the military don’t check their First Amendment rights at the door when they join the armed forces,” he said in an email. “They fight to uphold and defend the Constitution for all Americans regardless of faith (or no faith).”

The Rev. Steve Estep, pastor of Grace Church of the Nazarene in Clarksville, said most of his church members have served in the Army. He feels that the military is becoming less tolerant of Christian points of view.

Estep thinks some activists would like soldiers to keep their faith to themselves and was concerned the policy could affect religious freedom.

“There is a difference between freedom of religion and freedom from religion,” he said.

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