WASHINGTON — Archbishop Timothy M. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services praised the efforts of a new coalition formed to fight what the organizers see as growing hostility toward service members' religious expression.
"The archdiocese looks forward to working closely as an ally as all seek to ensure the continued protection of the First Amendment rights of free speech and the free exercise of religion of the men and women of the United States military," the archbishop said.
"No one who raises a right hand to defend the Constitution should sacrifice one of its fundamental principles," Archbishop Broglio said.
His statement came in response to a July 9 news conference on Capitol Hill held by the Family Research Council, other organizations and activists, and members of Congress to announce formation of the Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition.
The Family Research Council also released a report titled "A Clear and Present Danger," listing 40 separate incidents that have occurred over the past several years that taken together, the council said, illustrate a growing hostility toward free expression of religious beliefs by members of the U.S. military.
Attendees at the news conference also expressed support for a military religious freedom amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act sponsored by Rep. John Fleming, R-La.
In an earlier statement about his amendment, Fleming acknowledged that in last year's defense authorization bill, congressional lawmakers took steps to protect the religious liberty of service members, but now he is concerned, he said, about protecting members' expression of their religious beliefs.
He explained the amendment was needed "to ensure that men and women of faith will not be discriminated against in the armed forces, and will be free to exercise their religious beliefs."
Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Department of Defense spokesman, told Catholic News Service in a July 11 statement that "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.
Incidents cataloged in "A Clear and Present Danger" cover a nine-year period.
Among 2013 events it describes was an order in January by U.S. military leaders that soldiers take down a steeple and board up cross-shaped windows of a chapel at remote base in Afghanistan "to keep the chapel religiously neutral." In 2011, a similar situation occurred where soldiers were forced to remove a cross at a chapel at Camp Marmal, Afghanistan, the report says.
In May of this year, an Air Force officer was told to remove a Bible from his desk because it might appear he was condoning "a particular religion," the report says, and a painting that included a Bible verse was removed from the dining hall of Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho.
In his statement to CNS, Christensen said: "Service members may exercise their rights under the First Amendment regarding the free exercise of religion unless doing so adversely affects good order, discipline or some other aspect of the military mission; even then, the department seeks a reasonable religious accommodation for the service member."