In response to a letter from a coalition of religious liberty advocates concerned about anti-Christian bias in Defense Department “equal opportunity” training materials, the Department of Defense says it is reviewing those materials and will decide this month whether to continue using “private organizations” as resources in developing them. The coalition specifically cited the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a group the military should stop relying upon as a source for equal opportunity training. DOD spokesman Lt. Commander Nathan Christensen told CNSNews.com on Dec. 19 that if DOD decides to continue using private groups as resources, it will also decide whether a disclaimer should be included when those organizations are cited in DOD training materials. Christensen did not say whether DOD would agree to meet with members of the coalition concerned about religious freedom in the military to discuss their concerns. The Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition, a group of 23 non-profit organizations, sent their letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Dec. 6. The coalition–which includes the Family Research Council, the Center for Military Readiness, and the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty–told Hagel it came together because “[b]y the beginning of this summer a number of events had occurred that raised concerns about the status of religious liberties enjoyed by America’s military personnel.” (See Coalition Letter.pdf) A report produced by the Family Research Council (FRC) cites numerous examples over the last six years of members of the military being targeted by the Defense Department for their religious beliefs. The letter to Hagel references several cases from the report.
“In his capacity as the informal head of this coalition of like-minded groups, Gen. Boykin wrote to you on October 24, 2013 to express grave concern about equal opportunity (EO) training incidents at Camp Shelby and Fort Hood in which our colleagues at the American Family Association (AFA) were singled out and described as extremists,” says the letter. “We believe this categorization was applied to AFA based on materials produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center.” The Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, a member of the coalition, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the DOD seeking training materials, including those used by the DOD’s equal opportunity training offices. One of the training documents released as a result of this FOIA was a Powerpoint presentation, entitled “Extremism & Extremist Organizations,” that was used at a March 2012 Pennsylvania Army Reserve Equal Opportunity training presentation. It states, “The number of hate groups, extremists and anti-government organizations in the U.S. has continued to grow over the past three years, according to reports by the Southern Poverty Law Center.” (See Extremism Presentation.pdf) More