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Following an uproar over a Defense Department statement saying that military personnel could be court-martialed for sharing their faith, the Pentagon has backed down on that position and now says soldiers are free to proselytize, as long as they don’t harass others. “Service members can share their faith,” clarified Navy Lieutenant Commander Nate Christensen in a statement, “but must not force unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others of any faith or no faith to one’s beliefs.”

Earlier the Defense Department had released an alarming statement saying: “Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense…. Court martials and non-judicial punishments are decided on a case-by-case basis.” That statement appeared to come as the result of an April 24 meeting between military officials and Mikey Weinstein of the atheist group Military Religious Freedom Foundation, in which Weinstein pressured Air Force officials to enforce a policy that supposedly bans Air Force personnel from openly expressing their religious faith. The Defense Department has reportedly turned to Weinstein’s group to hammer out policies on religious expression in the military.

Weinstein has gained notoriety for his aggressive campaign to sanitize the military of overt faith expressions by service members. He told Fox News that “until the Air Force or Army or Navy or Marine Corps punishes a member of the military for unconstitutional religious proselytizing and oppression, we will never have the ability to stop this horrible, horrendous, dehumanizing behavior.” Weinstein was referring to examples of supposed religious persecution within the ranks, and said that his group “would love to see hundreds of prosecutions to stop this outrage of fundamentalist religious persecution.”

The outcry from chaplains and religious leaders over Weinstein’s rhetoric prompted the Defense Department to issue its updated statement backing down from implying that service members might be targeted for sharing their faith. According to Charisma News, the clarification came after the conservative legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking a clarification from the Defense Department on the issue.

“Members of our military should not be denied the very freedoms they fight to defend,” explained ADF Legal Counsel Joseph La Rue. “Freedom of religion and speech are paramount among those freedoms.”

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